Roxann Dawson is a TV and movie director from Los Angeles and Dr. Jeremy Garrett is an emergency room doctor at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.
The two are linked by the movie “Breakthrough,” which tells the story of John Smith, a teen who spent more than 20 minutes under the ice at Lake Sainte Louise in Lake St. Louis in 2015 and recovered at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon. Smith’s mother prayed for the Holy Spirit to intervene, which the family credits with his recovery. Dawson made the movie about the then-eighth grader’s recovery and Garrett was the physician in charge of a staff of medical professionals who cared for the youngster. John Smith’s recovery was a national story, proclaimed a miracle by many.
Director’s ‘amazing ride’
Dawson said what makes “Breakthrough” special is that it’s a story of a mother who prays her son back to life. It’s “a story I needed and wanted to tell,” she said.
She visited the hospital for background information and sought additional information throughout the filming to be as accurate as possible. “I was so grateful they allowed us to use their name,” Dawson said. “That doesn’t always happen, even when you’re trying to tell a true story. Obviously some wonderful work happened there with the Smiths and other things as well.”
Dawson was raised in an agnostic family, and was not allowed to discuss religion. Later on, she explored Catholicism when she looked into religions and met her future husband who is Catholic. “I really fell in love with that religion, got married in the Catholic Church and our kids have been raised Catholic as well,” Dawson said. “Doing this film is an opportunity for me to explore through work my own feelings of faith.”
She hasn’t had the opportunity to explore the subject of faith, “so this is something I’m so eternally grateful for,” she said.
People are afraid to talk about faith out of the fear of offending someone, Dawson said. “And it’s such a shame that we can’t discuss spirituality. Hopefully films like this will open that door again. We can discuss it over the dinner table, we can discuss it with friends.”
Her career has taken a number of turns, “an amazing ride” that she thought would end with stage acting. But she went on to acting in TV and film and then directing, proving the adage that “you make your plans and watch God laugh,” she said. Her advice to young people is to have a plan, but “when God speaks to us to move in a different direction, we have to be willing to take that risk or we won’t know the amazing things that can happen to us. In times when I’m quiet and really listen, those are the moments in my life that have the most profound effect.”
A doctor’s take
Garrett, who works in the pediatric intensive care unit at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon, said it’s great to be part of a miraculous recovery. The outcome for drownings usually is dismal, he said. Faith is an important aspect of healing and is one of the reasons he enjoys working at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon, he said, along with the excellent medical care that is provided. The chaplain services are top-notch and provide a benefit to patients and their families, he added.
The filmmakers did a good job, were sincere and not out to exploit the situation, said Garrett, who attended a preview of the film, which opens nationwide Wednesday, April 17. “It’s good entertainment with a good message, one that you can see with the family,” he said.
The physician was honored to be portrayed by Dennis Haysbert. Garrett jokes with people that “I’m just waiting for the action figures to come out.”
A few things were changed in the movie to make it more entertaining, Garrett said, along with a focus on just one doctor and nurse. But it was a team of medical professionals who were involved in the actual care, including respiratory therapists and day and night shifts. “There were several people involved in John’s care who weren’t recognized or got the fame that I get to enjoy having my name associated with this,” Garrett noted. “My name is just a representation of other members of the PICU team here at Glennon who provided the excellent care that made it possible to have this film made.”
>> The story
is based on the true story of a mother’s unfaltering love in the face
of seemingly impossible odds. The movie will be released in theaters
nationwide Wednesday, April 17.
It was 57 degrees outside on Jan.
19, 2015. Children were off school in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr.’s birthday. After spending the night at a friend’s house,
14-year-old John Smith called his mom to let her know that he and two
friends would be going to the recreation center near his friend’s home
to practice basketball.
The water at Lake Sainte Louise, a smaller
body of water near Lake St. Louis, had frozen the week prior due to the
cold weather. John and his friends wandered out on the ice and decided
to take a photo of themselves with a cell phone. Then, the trio fell
into the 40-degree water.
The two other boys were rescued right
away, but John was trapped underneath for more than 15 minutes. He
didn’t have a pulse for more than 45 minutes. Rescue workers performed
CPR and other measures, and then John was taken to SSM St. Joseph
Hospital West, where a team worked on him for more than 27 minutes.
Never before had anyone come back after being pulseless for 30 minutes
and their efforts were continuing at 46 minutes, according to hospital
sources. His mother, Joyce Smith, came into the room, began praying, and
her son’s heart began to beat again. He was transported via helicopter
to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital with gasping-type
breathing and absent basic brainstem functions.
Joyce wrote a
novel about his full recovery just 24 hours after the accident, titled
“The Impossible: The Miraculous Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her
“Results like this are not what
knowledgeable physicians specializing in pediatric emergency or
intensive care would expect, even with the best of care,” said Dr.
Jeremy Garrett, pediatric critical care and drowning specialist said in
an article by the SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation. “If
I had not been part of John’s care from presentation to recovery, I’m
not sure I would have believed it myself.”
For more about the story, visit www.glennon.org/john-smith.
the nation’s only free-standing, Catholic children’s hospital, Cardinal
Glennon has provided care for children regardless of ability to pay
since 1956. For information, visit www.glennon.org.
Producer, director and actor Roxann Dawson makes her feature-film directing debut with “Breakthrough.”
Her recent directing credits include “The Deuce” for HBO, “The Chi” for
Showtime, and “MARVEL’S Runaways” for Hulu. Among many other directing
credits are multiples of “House of Cards,” “The Americans” and “Treme.”
She is also producer-director on “Scandal,” as well as “Cold Case” and
A native of Los Angeles, Dawson graduated from
U.C. Berkeley with a degree in theatre arts. Shortly after graduation,
she landed her first professional job as Diana Morales in the Broadway
production of “A Chorus Line.” While in New York, she also performed in
numerous Off-Broadway and regional theatre productions.
cast as B’Elanna Torres in “Star Trek: Voyager” and during the series’
seven-year run, she started a family and began her directing career with
10 episodes of the next Star Trek series, “Enterprise.” In addition to
directing, Dawson co-authored a trilogy of novels with Daniel Graham,
“The Tenebrea Trilogy.”