It's a scene that's been viewed by more than 12 million people on YouTube. Jennifer Ronnenberg, in a hospital bed at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, readies herself to take her first unassisted breath following a double lung transplant. She'd lived with cystic fibrosis for years. As her care team removes Jennifer's breathing tube, her then-fiancé-and-now-husband, Rob Ronnenberg, hits record as her eyes widen in disbelief as she realizes she can breathe on her own.
Millions of views aside, as we noted in March 2018, the video has given Jennifer and Rob a chance to connect with other transplant recipients and organ donor families, many of whom reached out to the couple after seeing Jennifer's story. "Some have shared their sorrow of loss and how this has brought them peace," Jennifer says. "Others have messages of encouragement, having lived many years after transplant, and for others, it gives them hope." And that's the message Jennifer and Rob hope to send when they participate in a panel discussion at a "Bioethics at the Cinema" event later this month. The event, sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program and Rochester Public Library, will feature a screening of "Five Feet Apart" at Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse in Rochester.
"Five Feet Apart" tells the story of 17-year-old Stella, a young cystic fibrosis patient who spends much of her life in a hospital — a hospital where she meets Will, "a charming teen with the same illness" who's also fighting a bacterial infection. Initially required to remain five feet apart from each other due to that infection, Will and Stella find themselves unable to resist throwing caution to the wind "as their connection intensifies."
"Five Feet Apart" is more than just a dramatized look at what life is like for cystic fibrosis patients, according to Karen Meagher, Ph.D., associate director of Public Engagement for Mayo Clinic’s Biomedical Ethics Research Program. "I think it also shows what it's like to fall in love when you have a disease and what that means — how that disease might get in the way but also how it might shape how and why you fell in love in the first place," she tells us.
You can formulate your own opinion after you watch the film for free on Thursday, Jan. 30, at 6 p.m. at Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse. Afterward, you can talk all about it with Jennifer and Rob Ronnenberg, who, along with Mayo Clinic genetic counselor Jessica Balcom, will participate in a discussion panel following the closing credits.
For Dr. Meagher, that discussion panel is where the evening's excitement lies. "Although we're really excited for people to come and see this film, what we're most excited about is for people to come and share their own stories and participate in a conversation and really engage with us during the discussion panel," she says. "Even though we do have a panel of experts, a lot of what we ask them to do is speak to their own personal experiences and how those have given them insight into what really matters when it comes to science and medicine. That's why whenever we have these events, each one is so different."
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