Nurses organize prom for cancer patient

Torie Dingler, 17, arrives at the prom with her date Dustin Heinrich, that was organized by the nurses at Bon Secours St. Francis at the hospital in West Ashley after she missed her big dance due to her cancer treatments Thursday December 3, 2015. Grace Beahm/Staff

Seventeen-year-old Torie Dingler spent several nights at the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital this past year, beating back the bone cancer in her right arm with powerful chemotherapy.

She missed her high school prom.

“I had a pretty extensive arm surgery in January” to remove the tumor, she said.

“They got all of it out and replaced it with cadaver (donor) bones.”

But her fight isn’t over. Next week, Torie will travel to Houston to enroll in a clinical trial at Texas Children’s Hospital. Her family hopes cutting-edge immunotherapy will eradicate the cancer, now present in her lungs.

Torie will spend Christmas a thousand miles away from her Holly Hill home, but first, she attended a make-up prom.

Torie’s mother, Debby Dingler, is a nurse supervisor at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital. Nurses there organized a prom for Torie on Thursday night under the oak trees at the West Ashley hospital. They sold $20 tickets and raised more than $5,000.

The money will allow Debby to take time off from work while Torie is in Texas.

“It’s amazing. I work with great people,” Debby said.

When Torie’s arm started hurting last year, she tried to shrug it off. She was a competitive cheerleader. She knew that aches and pains are part of the game.

“We just associated that with competitive cheerleading,” she said.

Eventually, though, Torie said Advil stopped easing her pain. That’s when the Dinglers decided their daughter needed to see a doctor.

“I was diagnosed in October of last year,” Torie said. “Right after I got diagnosed, we did a bunch of different scans and we started chemo that following week.”

She used to attend Lake Marion High School in Santee. Now she’s enrolled in an online program because her treatment requires her to miss too much school.

“Torie has been so good through all this,” her mom said.

Kara Ellis, an emergency room nurse at Bon Secours St. Francis, doesn’t know Debby Dingler very well — they work different shifts — but when Ellis found out Torie missed her high school prom, she knew she wanted to help.

“I kind of have a ‘pay-it-forward’ philosophy,” Ellis said.

That’s because she knows what it’s like to take care of a sick child. Ellis’ toddler was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a baby. Friends and family have raised thousands of dollars for Ellis to buy a diabetes alert dog. The dog is trained to detect when her son’s blood sugar is too high or too low.

A brand-new diabetes alert dog can cost up to $20,000, she said.

But fighting cancer is expensive, too.

“I can’t imagine dealing with a child with cancer,” Ellis said.

So she sprang into action. With the help of her co-workers, Ellis organized the prom on Thursday, complete with a tent, chairs, outdoor space heaters and a live band.

“We’re excited and it’s going to awesome,” Ellis said Thursday morning before the big event.

Torie recently made a special trip to Savannah to buy her prom dress.

“It’s like champagne color and it’s like chiffon on the bottom and beaded on the top,” she said.

Torie said she was surprised to learn about the nurses’ plans.

“I just want to thank them for taking their time to organize such an amazing event for me.”

She even lined up a date.

“I was pretty excited because I always wanted to have a prom,” she said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.