April 5, 2010— -- Ask any teen girl in high school and she will probably list prom among the many high school events to which she looks forward.
Dani Wilkening, 18, of Spring, Texas, is no different. But for Dani, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 6 months, the dream of playing dress-up for the evening and dancing the night away with her classmates seemed almost impossible to her mother.
"The night that Dani was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, I woke up in the middle of the night and I cried. I said, 'My baby's never going to prom,'" said Dani's mom, Vicki Goodnight. "That was significant to me that she wasn't going to get all the milestones in life."
A senior at Oak Ridge High School in Conroe, Texas, Dani was determined to celebrate her prom. But Dani's confinement to a wheelchair made it impossible to try on dresses inside dress shops, said Goodnight. And her muscles had atrophied, so it would be hard to find an off-the-rack dress that fit properly.
But Dani's stepsister Brittany had bought a prom dress the year before at a shop called Dream Day Bridal in The Woodlands, Texas. The owner was Laurie Metcalf-Brock. Brittany took Dani there.
"In Dani's mind there was no doubt she was going to go, but the rest of us had questions," said Goodnight.
"It scared me when [Dani] came in because I never had this challenge," said Metcalf-Brock. "But I knew what could be done and can't be done."
Metcalf-Brock measured Dani and e-mailed her pictures of possible dresses. Once Dani picked one, the store would custom-make the dress to fit her.
For girls, dressing up for prom is more than just the dress. So for Dani's mother, the challenge was not over.
Metcalf-Brock, who said she understood the hardship, reached out to her hairdresser to see if she could help the family. Before long, there was a small flood of offers from local businesses to help prep Dani for her special day.
"The big issue for us [on prom day] was logistically how we are going to get her dress on in one place, go and get her hair and makeup done at another, come back to the house and have to leave again," said Goodnight. "It is not that easy for someone like Dani."
So Metcalf-Brock decided she would close her dress shop on prom day and transform into Dani's personal dressing room.
"It made me cry, I was elated, I couldn't believe that somebody would care that much," said Goodnight. "[Dani] just sees that she might not have a date, but she'll be treated like a princess," she said.
On April 17, Dani plans to go to dinner with her sisters, then go to the prom like her classmates.
"I'm just tickled it's really made her day," said Metcalf-Brock. "She touched my heart when her sister brought her in. I had no idea when I started this that it would mean so much to her."