After the Fall: A Breath of Life is a documentary project that depicts a young woman’s (Shilpa) day-to-day struggles with life-saving decisions and navigating through differing cultural and religious notions of healing.
A Summary of the Documentary
Shilpa struggled through two bouts of cancer and an adverse reaction to the chemo that scarred her lungs irreparably so that she required a double lung transplant. While on the waiting list to receive a transplant, she had to deal with conflict within her social support network. Even after the transplant she experienced many ups and downs in her recovery, landing her in and out of the ICU, and had to learn to walk again. The struggle remains a reality even today as she relies on a series of anti-rejection drugs that don’t always work. Despite her very difficult struggle, Shilpa remains positive and optimistic as well as vibrant and energetic and surrounds herself with friends and loved ones.
The documentary goes over what Shilpa’s life used to be like before the transplant and now after the transplant. It documents her sister and mother’s struggle with her illness. It also touches on Shipla’s experience, coming very close to death, how she felt and how she feels now about life and her purpose and what’s meaningful to her. It also possesses a central conflict: Her mother didn’t agree with her getting the transplant and didn’t believe in modern medicine in general, but instead relied heavily on a support system that consisted of her religious beliefs and the conviction that her daughter would be saved through prayer. Shilpa, however, doesn’t think that it has to be one or the other, but that true healing can come from a combination of the two.
Interview with the Production Team
The brilliant minds behind this touching documentary are Pam Sethi and Rose D’Souza, who jointly wrote, produced, and directed this entire project.
Pam has a background in nursing and epidemiology and is currently in policy work while Rose has a background in Journalism and public health. Rose was interested in being involved with this documentary because she felt that “it was a really great story to tell,” while one of Pam’s primary concerns was figuring out a way to actually create change and start a movement. Pam concluded that change is often initiated through powerful stories. Combining their intentions for the project, they were able to create a creative piece that does both.
Pam explained that “it was supposed to be a 10-15 minute doc, but the project became larger than what we expected it to be.” Both Pam and Rose have full-time jobs, and, as Rose notes, spent “many late nights after work making this [documentary] together.”
Themes of this documentary touch on philosophies and views on transplant, cultural variances, death and dying. “The intent of this doc was twofold,” mentioned Pam, “to not only share Shilpa’s beautiful story and to raise awareness in Shilpa’s community and the public, but also to impact providers and policy makers around the patient experience and impact those in positions of decision making.”
The percentage of the eligible population registered as organ donors in Ontario is 25%, many of which are from the GTA. In the GTA alone, 15% of the eligible population are registered organ donors. This 25% is 3.1 million out of an eligible 11.8 million. As of December 31st 2014, 1,581 Ontarians are currently waiting for an organ transplant.
“With an entire crown ward dedicated to raising awareness on issues of donation,” said Pam, “we are questioning why our statistics haven’t grown or gotten any higher.”
The documentary served as a good opportunity for Shilpa to show others what a new set of lungs has done for her and to raise awareness around the realities of organ donation. She hoped that her story could touch people and perhaps even elicit a response from the community to register as organ donors and get involved.
Pam also mentioned that this was a long, drawn-out process for Shilpa because of the disagreement around her treatment within her household. Pam would like to see policy makers become more informed about cultural differences regarding the beliefs and impressions of organ donations and be able to integrate and address some of these concerns in the counseling period before a transplant.
Pam and Rose both expressed how amazed they were at Shilpa’s willingness to share her story and how expressive she was, because “she is ordinarily a very private person and to share something so personal publically is very unusual for Shilpa.” Rose describes Shilpa as “always having a smile on her face, regardless of what she’s going through; she doesn’t like to share any of the bad experiences.” Rose explains that having had to be strong and pull through for the past 8 years, Shilpa always put on a happy, positive, and strong demeanor; however, she was finally able to express in this documentary some of the hurt, fear, and negative feelings that she has had which most of her closest friends and family never heard her utter before. Ultimately the documentary works to help Shilpa voice her struggle, and as Pam mentions, “where she was before the documentary a year ago and where she is now, I feel like she is completely empowered.”
After the Fall: A Breath of Life has been submitted to Canadian and International film festivals throughout 2015. Keep your eyes open for your chance to see it.
Read more about the project here: https://www.facebook.com/Afterthefall.abreathoflife
See the documentary teaser here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUWpjN2Pmfs&feature=youtu.be
Statistics on Organ Donation in Ontario were sourced from the Trillium Gift of Life Network: http://www.giftoflife.on.ca/en/
Published in Fusia magazine February 2015