A Late Review: Miracles From Heaven from the Eyes of a Still Sick Girl

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[Image shows three spoons laying on a laptop keyboard. Overlaid is torn white notebook paper with a red paper clip. In black text reads “A Late Review: Miracles from Heave from the Eyes of a Still Sick Girl”. In the left hand corner of the paper is a purple daisy with a green awareness ribbon. At the bottom left hand corner of the banner is the Thee Crohnie Grace logo]

I want to start by saying I have now watched this movie five times trying to find the exact words as to why I like and dislike this movie. And I wanted to find a way to portray those feelings in a way that does not discredit their story. Every review I read wants to talk about how cliche the movie is from a “christian-drama” stand point, but I’m not here to talk about this from a religious stand point. I’m here to talk about it from the view point of a girl who got sick around the same age as Anna Beam, and who is still sick, and will likely be sick all of my life. I want to talk about how it hits home, how it’s a good representation of motility disorders, and how whether you believe in miracles or not, you should never leave science out of the question and I will talk about how science and miracles go together.

I’m not here to tell you that God exists of that he doesn’t, I’m not here to tell you that miracles are real or fake. I’m here to tell you what it felt like to watch that movie and relive the things I have gone through, how happy it made me to see good representation of motility disorders, how upsetting it is knowing that the family did not donate any of their book or movie earnings to research for those who cannot fall into tree’s and become “cured”, and how it is important to credit the hard working doctors and medical teams out there who work so hard for people like myself to have the care and treatments we do, because ultimately prayer and God cannot fix everything, regardless of what people believe.

And with that, I’m starting up the movie for the 5th time. I first watched the movie with my friend Ari, who has total digestive tract paralysis and is on TPN (IV nutrition) through a central line. Like Ari, I too have Gastroparesis (a motility disorder similar but not the same as Anna’s), and receive nutrition via an NJ tube.

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[Image shows a computer screen with the movie, it shows the mother and father talking to a surgeon in green scrubs. On the side of my computer you can see Ari resting her head on her hand while watching the movie with me via Skype]

 

The movie starts with Christy Beam played by Jennifer Garner talking about miracles and what causes them. You then are introduced to the three daughters as they play with a tire. There’s some good humor that reminds me of my mom picking on me and my siblings when we don’t always match our clothes or do something silly.

They then go to church where they talk about faith with a very cheesy Pastor, have a barbecue and talk about going to an aquarium which seems to excite Anna Beam. Anna is clearly very caring of her family, talking about how she prays for her dad’s business to take off. It is that night that is becomes apparent that Anna is sick as she wakes in the middle of the night puking.

When I first got sick I was 8, I had severe stomach pain, throwing up, blood in stool, and there are still nights where I find myself hugging the toilet much like Anna.

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[Image shows Anna Beam in great pain, crying, as her mother is bent next to her with a hand on her head trying to comfort her]

Much like Anna’s mom, my own mom fought for me every step of the way. When doctors tried to give half-assed explanations for my pain and fever and sickness, she was fighting for answers. I look at Anna in the movie and see myself at 8 years old, sick and afraid, seeing doctor after doctor, spending lots of time in hospitals, test after test, medication after medication but with no real answers.

You see multiple doctors write off Anna’s condition calling it bacterial, viral, “lactose intolerant”, “acid reflux”. And many people with chronic illness can agree to having the same thing happen to them, not having doctors look into things or writing it off as something it wasn’t. It really captures the fact that diagnosis does not come easy and that some doctors can be complete jerks and have no bed side manner at all.

You see Christy Beam yelling at the arrogant male doctor saying she is not leaving til she knows what is wrong with her daughter.

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[Image shows Jennifer Garner playing Christy Beam very upset with her hand in front of her face.]

Finally we are brought to the scene where the doctors come in and tell her she is completely obstructed, that they need to put down an NG tube to drain her stomach and do surgery. The first time I had a feeding tube they put me under. But I remember a similar situation of being held down when I was 8 as nurses pinned me down to start an IV on me when I was still terrified of needles. Now I put down my own feeding tubes. Again it just shows a really raw moment, watching the scene the first time I found it hard not to tear up a little bit as I thought about my own past experiences.

Then we are shown Christy Beam and her husband talking to the doctor as he explains she has a motility disorder, which while they never specifically say it is Chronic Intestinal Psuedo Obstructions. And they talk about Anna doing tubal feedings. As someone who is tube fed, it was incredible to see tube feedings in a movie. I mean there are so many people who don’t know about NG/NJ tubes or mistake them for oxygen.

The doctor talks about how the food just sits there in her stomach because her intestines don’t work and so that’s why she keeps getting sick. There is no cure. So she is restricted to tube feedings until she can get a g-tube. They mention a doctor in Boston who is actually a real doctor, Dr. Nurko at Boston Children’s. The real Dr. Nurko actually has a cameo in the movie.

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[Image shows the real Dr. Nurko, a middle aged man with a receding hairline, glasses, in a nice jacket and tie next to Jennifer Garner in a white with blue striped shirts holding a teddy bear in scrubs.]

The next scenes include showing Anna with her nasal feeding tube, medicine chart, etc. Again I can’t express how amazing it was to see tube feedings in a movie. It then shows Christy pulling Anna’s feeding tube out way too slowly if you ask me. When I pull my feeding tubes I pull them two hands at a time as fast as I can.

It shows Anna not being able to wear jeans. And she asks, “Why do you think God hasn’t healed me?” I remember wondering the same thing at her age, wearing only sweat pants because everything else hurt.

From the stand point of someone with gastroparesis, another motility disorder, I want everyone to see this movie, just so they see the representation of the illness in the movie. The effect it has one family, on oneself, and even on one’s faith if you are religious.

I was very young when I first got sick, and so I don’t really remember everything and how it effected my mom. If she questioned her faith, if she felt as lost and scared as I did.

Next is the scene where Anna’s dad brings home a yorkie. Ironically after I got out of the hospital, I got a yorkie too, his name was Elliot. He would lay on my lap all day and keep me company when I was too sick to do anything. It made me chuckle just to see the ironic similarities between my story and hers in the movie (I haven’t read the book so I have no idea if it occurred in the book or not)

Now for the part that sent fire through my veins. The pastor says when things go wrong, you should look at yourself and see if you have gone astray. Some mother’s approach Anna’s mom and tell her that the reason her daughter is sick is because maybe she is sinning, or her husband, or Anna. This is when religion becomes toxic. I guarantee had someone approached my mom and said that, they would be eating their words through a feeding tube as well. And if someone came up to me today and told me it was my fault for not getting better because I was sinning, I would probably laugh. Being sick is nobody’s fault. It just happens. Offer support, don’t condemn.

Now I won’t spoil the whole movie, because I want you to go and watch it. I want you to see the movie and make your own conclusions.

You see the parents fight, which happens often when people get sick, you see them do various tests on Anna, you see Anna in the hospital. It is incredibly real and more accurate than any film I’ve seen about chronic illnesses.

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[Image shows Anna Beam laying in a hospital bed in green pajamas that have dogs on them.]

The scene that had me includes Anna in the hospital, she’s been there a while, after a horrible night of pain she turns to her mom and says she wants to die, she’s tired of being in pain, she just wants to go to heaven and be done with it.  She says, “I want to go home.” “Don’t you understand it never stops hurting?” “I just want it to be over.” I think that was probably the rawest moment of the film, because I can remember thinking the same things on my worst days. You can really see how Anna’s personality changes from being sick, something that many people can relate to. It is incredibly hard living with chronic pain, getting sick after eating, living in and out of hospitals, dealing with tests and needles and shoving tubes down your nose or ending up on TPN or with a surgically placed tube.  It is exhausting. We smile and put on strong faces, try to make sure people don’t have any reason to pity us or feel sorry. But that moment, that’s the reality of living with an incurable illness.

There are moments when I think how much easier it would be to give up. You see Anna get depressed. Her mother arguing with her to take a shower, my mother and I have had the same argument. She says, “What’s the point? I don’t want your help.” She’s reached her tipping point.

Of course in the movie and story Anna falls into a tree and is then told she is asymptomatic. She is not cured. She is either in remission, or as my friend Ari suggests, she was misdiagnosed and probably had MALS which would explain how falling could fix her symptoms since it is caused by compressed artery which could become uncompressed when she fell. Regardless, she no longer is experiencing symptoms.

In a similar sense, after you reach your tipping point, there comes a moment of bliss when you have reached acceptance of what is happening with your life. Once you are done grieving for the previous life you had and have accepted that this is how it’s going to be.

So I don’t want to say this is a bad movie. I wouldn’t have watched it 5 times if it was. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it shows the reality of living with a motility disorder. The portrayal of feeding tubes, central lines, hospitalization, grief, etc. It really hits home for me.

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[Image in the top left shows Anna getting an endoscopy done, the image to the right of that shows Anna getting her tube feeds through her nasal feeding tube as her mom checks her feeding pump. The second image on the left shows Anna with the yorkie terrier her father brought her. Below that is an image of Anna with her nasal feeding tube as her mom is about to pull the tape off her face to remove the feeding tube. The second image to right shows Anna in the hospital with a tube coming out of her chest.]

Please, please, learn about illnesses like CIPO and gastroparesis, donate to research and treatment, realize that this is how some people live and will live the rest of their lives, and some will lose their lives to this. Watch this movie and remember that this is people’s lives, and there is no cure. If you walk away from this movie with anything, let it be awareness. I can’t say that enough. I want people to walk away and not forget about these illnesses and their effect on people. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but awareness can make sure that it really is a good life.

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[Image shows the actresses playing Christy Beam and Anna Beam in an aquarium with their hands against the glass looking at the fish, their reflection in the glass.]

 

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