APPLETON — Hundreds in Appleton on Friday night, July 22nd showed support for an Appleton teenager celebrating her last dance.
14-year-old Jerika Bolen is suffering from spinal muscular atrophy — a terminal illness. She plans to turn off the ventilator that keeps her alive at the end of the summer — and a special prom on Friday night was a celebration of her life.
“I know that it makes her feel beautiful and she loves the attention. It’s everything she deserves,” Jen Bolen, Jerika’s mother said.
For one night, Jerika wanted to be seen as a princess.
“It makes my heart explode. It’s so crazy that people want to come out for little old me,” Jerika Bolen said.
She wore a poofy, sparkly green gown, and a limo with a police escort whisked her off to her prom.
“We took a long route so she could enjoy it,” Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas said.
A parade of squad cars led her limousine to the Grand Meridian in Appleton.
“To support her before she goes,” Chief Thomas said.
Much of the event was made possible thanks to donations — like the space, the food and Jerika’s dress.
A GoFundMe account raised about $32,000 to give Jerika a great prom. When Jerika asked for a prom, she did not think it would end up like it did — with hundreds of supporters filling the space.
“Not really, I thought it was gonna be kinda low-key, but it’s really awesome!” Jerika said.
Jerika has proved an inspiration to many — because of her bravery, and she’ll leave a legacy within the spinal muscular atrophy community.
Because of her condition, Jerika lives in constant, intense pain. In August, she’ll go into hospice care.
Jerika says the decision was difficult and so was telling her mom.
“It was a hard day that day,” she recalled.
“I said, ‘Jerika, I love you so much that I will not let you suffer. If it’s that bad, then it’s okay. Mom will find a way to be okay,'” said Jerika’s mom, Jennifer Bolen.
“I know my daughter is watching over. Jerika is excited meet my daughter. People need to work on a cure for the disease,” Corey Mars, who lost his daughter to SMA said.
For her last wish, Jerika said she wanted a prom. She said she was feeling depressed about her situation, but somehow, she found the strength to change.
“I decided I needed to be, like, happy and strong, or what’s worth even doing a prom or anything? And I decided to change my outlook,” Jerika said.
So for one night, it was all about happiness and joy, for Jerika and her mom.
Jerika said she hopes her story raises more awareness about her condition. She hopes that awareness could someday lead to a cure.