• Joseph Michelli

A Surprisingly Kind Prom

Natalie Salazar, age 12, was a champion figure skater who began noticing pain in her legs while preparing for a regional competition as a step toward the Olympics. While originally thinking it was joint inflammation, the condition was ultimately diagnosed as a type of cancer known as osteosarcoma. Her chemotherapy treatments were unsuccessful, and at age 13, Natalie was told she was going to die. Her biggest regret was that she would never be able to go to her high school prom. Natalie’s eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis, attended the same church as Laura Gutierrez, area director of human resources at The Ritz-Carlton, Dearborn, where Natalie’s story was told.Laura and the Ladies and Gentlemen at Ritz-Carlton rushed into action.

Laura described Natalie’s special night: “We hosted Natalie’s Prom in our ballroom, and it was at- tended by 18 classmates and 7 of her championship ice skating team members. Our audiovisual technician was the disk jockey, our IT technician was the photographer, our banquet director provided security, and everyone pitched in to make this an extra special event. Our convention service team put pin lights up and laid a dance floor, and our business center put together a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of the kids from kindergarten to eighth grade, complete with some drawings Natalie’s former kindergarten teacher had provided.”​

Laura goes on to add that “our team hosted a grand prom complete with Prince Charming who guided her down the red carpet to Natalie’s favorite song ‘Sweet Escapes.’ There, she danced the night away with Prince Charming. What an emotional night for everyone. The best part was she smiled the entire night, she danced every dance, she ate all of her favorite foods (salami, cheese and vegetables, and lots of ice cream). She limboed, hula hooped, chicken danced, Hustled, and led the train around the room. Parents joined the celebration at 10:30 p.m. just before Prince Charming turned into a frog. The kids had so much fun they didn’t want the night to end. After a tearful good-bye, Princess Natalie was led to her waiting chariot for much-needed rest at home. She commented as she drove away, ‘Tomorrow I’m off to the hospital for some tests. I can’t wait to tell them all about this.’ And she did just that.”​

According to Laura, “The buzz around the hotel was incredible. We were making a difference in a child’s life, and in the lives of her parents and teachers who for one full year had worried about Natalie, supported her, and cared for her.” Natalie’s father said, “We are immigrants to this country and have no family here. When Natalie became ill, we didn’t know what we would do. But Natalie’s teachers and friends and the staff at Ritz-Carlton became our family.” Natalie’s mother added, “I’ve been blessed with many friends, but I didn’t know there were such wonderful and caring hearts as we’ve found with everyone at Ritz-Carlton.”​

Natalie was only 13 when she lost her battle. The seamstress at Ritz-Carlton who had made Natalie’s prom dress also made the dress in which she was buried. In Natalie’s honor, Laura and the staff of Ritz-Carlton commemorated what would have been Natalie’s fourteenth birthday, complete with the cake Natalie had described to Laura the evening before her death.

Laura continues to keep in touch with Natalie’s parents. While many other companies support members of their community, the Ritz-Carlton culture of service routinely delivers SURPRISING KINDNESS such as that provided to Natalie’s family.

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