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Film explores girl’s bowel transplant surgery journey

Apr. 9, 2015, 9:11 AM


A documentary to be screened at this year’s Nashville Film Festival will give audiences the opportunity to experience the life of a vivacious young woman making the biggest decision of her life: whether to risk rare and complicated surgery with the potential to radically change her life.

“Semicolon: The Adventures of Ostomy Girl” follows 25-year-old Dana Marshall-Bernstein and her family in the months leading up to her decision about whether to undergo a bowel transplant. Through it all, Dana, aka Ostomy Girl, confronts each challenge with dignity, grace and humor. Her story is an inspiring testament to the triumph of tenacity and the human spirit in the face of grave adversity.

Marshall-Bernstein was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 4. Now 25, she has short bowel syndrome, the result of countless surgeries over the past decade that have left her with only 5 inches of small intestine (the normal length of the small intestine is around 23 feet), which is not enough for her body to absorb enough nutrition.

Spending as much time in hospitals as out, Marshall-Bernstein depends on intravenous nutrition, constant vigilance and her sense of humor to keep her alive. Now she faces the daunting task of deciding how she wants to live the rest of her life — coping with the limitations and rigors of her current routine or taking a leap of faith on a complicated bowel transplant that could give her a chance at the normal life she has never known.

“Approximately 30,000 Tennesseans are living each day with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Advancements such as earlier effective treatment and new medication options are helping people live more normal, productive lives, but challenges remain,” said David Schwartz, M.D., professor of Medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic. “While only a small percentage of my patients are as affected as the documentary’s subject, Dana, we still need greater awareness and support for research.”

At the premiere on April 19, the documentary’s director, Robin Greenspun, and Schwartz will participate in an audience Q-and-A session.

“Semicolon: The Adventures of Ostomy Girl” will be shown twice at the Nashville Film Festival.

• Sunday, April 19 – 1:15 p.m. at the Regal Green Hills Theater

• Saturday, April 25 – 5 p.m. at the Regal Green Hills Theater

Tickets for these screenings can be purchased in advance through the Nashville Film Festival.

According to Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis affects as many as 1.6 million Americans, including 80,000 children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men and women are equally as likely to be affected. While the disease can occur at any age, the onset of Crohn’s is more prevalent among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 35.

The causes of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are not well understood. Diet and stress may aggravate these diseases but are not causal on their own. Recent research suggests hereditary, genetics and/or environmental factors contribute to the development of the disorder.

In Tennessee, people living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can find support through the Tennessee Chapter of the CCFA. The chapter offers connections to area educational and support programs along with contact information for patient support groups located across the state. Each year, the chapter holds a walk called “Take Steps,” which raises funds to support Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis patient education and research. This year’s Take Steps walk in Nashville will be held on May 30 in Centennial Park.

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