A scene from Semicolon: The Adventures of Ostomy Girl. (photo from Vancouver Jewish Film Festival)
The photo of Dana Marshall-Bernstein being hugged by her mother, Cari Marshall, captures the love at the heart of Semicolon: The Adventures of Ostomy Girl.
When the documentary was filmed, Dana was 25. She had been dealing with severe Crohn’s disease since she was 4 years old. With less than four inches of intestine left after numerous surgeries, she receives all her nutrition intravenously. At age 16, she had her first ostomy – surgery to make an opening in the body so that body waste can be discharged. Poop jokes flourish in the family, one of the many ways in which they cope, and the brief Ostomy Girl cartoon that is included in the film shows the sheer strength of will this young woman possesses.
Over the months of filming, Dana – who lives with her parents in Las Vegas – is in and out of Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where she is treated by some seemingly amazing doctors, skill- and personality-wise, such as Dr. Feza Remzi. Her health gets worse and she finally makes the decision she understandably has resisted for so long – to be put on the transplant list for a small intestine.
At times, Dana seems younger than her years, so vulnerable; at other moments, her literal life-and-death concerns add years. Somehow, with the help of her parents – especially her mother, but also her father, Ed – Dana has led a relatively full life, as normally as possible. Somehow, she still has her sense of humor. Somehow, she has the courage and the energy to try and help others, through awareness and fundraising events for Cleveland Clinic and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
Semicolon screens at the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival (vjff.org) on Nov. 10, 3:30 p.m.