There's nothing more heart-wrenching for parents than a sick child who can't get well. Sterile hospital hallways, beeping heart monitors, doctors' grim looks. Dramatic stuff - and Hollywood knows it.
The subject has fueled films like "Lorenzo's Oil" and "First Do No Harm." Now comes "Extraordinary Measures," based on the true story of a New Jersey family, out today.
The film stars Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell as parents whose children are diagnosed with a fatal disease, and who enlist a quirky scientist (Harrison Ford) to fight the pharmaceutical industry for a cure.
"I wasn't looking to take on the health-care debate," says director Tom Vaughan. "My aim was to tell a moving story."
"Measures," while trying to be fair to all sides, also capitalizes on consumers' growing frustration with the profit-minded, seemingly capricious decisions of drug companies.
"It's a classic Hollywood tale - the underdog vs. the bureaucracy," says Dr. Mark P. Atlas, head of the childhood brain and spinal-cord tumor program at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park. "And this bureaucracy is one almost everyone has had to interface with."
And for sick children, the fight for adequate care may be toughest.
"There's no money in pediatrics," says Atlas, noting adults get sick in greater numbers than kids, driving Big Pharma to create umpteen drugs for heart disease, erectile dysfunction and other profitable ills, but few for rare children's maladies.
In this film, however, the family fights back.
"He just wouldn't take no for an answer," Fraser says of John Crowley, the real-life dad portrayed in the film. Crowley was told there was no cure for his children's ailment - Pompe disease, a rare genetic disorder altering sugar metabolism. So Crowley took a huge risk - quitting his job and racing to raise $100 million to create a new drug before it was too late.
If politicians don't solve the health- care crisis soon, expect more of these medical David and Goliath films at a multiplex near you.
"You ask yourself: What would I do in that situation?" says director Vaughan. "I think every parent hopes they could do what Crowley did."
'Lorenzo's Oil' (1992)
The disease: Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare brain disorder
The deal: True story of an unusual treatment derived from olive and rapeseed oils; earned two Oscar nominations (Sarandon, screenplay).
'First Do No Harm' (1997)
The parents: Meryl Streep, Fred Ward
The disease: Epilepsy
The deal: Fact-based TV film hyping the ketogenic diet (an experimental treatment) and earning Emmy nomination for Streep.
'The Miracle of the Cards' (2001)
The parents: Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Wingfield
The disease: Brain tumor
The deal: Fact-based TV film of British family
relying on faith and the power of get-well cards (they broke the Guinness record).
'John Q' (2002)
The disease: Heart disease
The deal: When insurance won't cover his son's transplant, a dad takes an ER staff hostage until the hospital operates. - JOSEPH V. AMODIO