They came without warning and didn’t go away: uncontrollable muscle twitches, weakness in his arms and hands, slurring of speech.
Even before the diagnosis in August 2011, Don Farrell and his wife Joan Darrah had figured out what they were confronting: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease that is 100 percent fatal within two to five years after onset of symptoms.
“I can tell you that after the initial shock and grief, one makes a decision to move forward or not,” said Farrell in a documentary made by Penn State College of Medicine students Arissa Torrie and Brian Kinsman.
“It stimulated me to complete my life -- not that I know what my life should be—but it stimulated me to finish it out strong, however that may be.”
Told through photographs and audio, “Don Farrell” is one of 10 medical student documentaries that explore in searing and haunting detail the lives of patients facing debilitating diseases and terminal illnesses. Screened on May 1, the “Video Slam: Patient Project Documentary Films” is part of Penn State College of Medicine’s yearlong curriculum focused on giving first-year medical students insights into how patients live with illness.
Portraits of vulnerability and strength, the films capture the struggles of patients and their caregivers as they cope with uncertainty and anger. But the documentaries also reveal the power of the human spirit to adapt to unimaginable and heartbreaking situations.