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Bearing Witness: Robert Coley-Donohue ONF/NFB

Catalogue Number:  NFB522436
Producer:  National Film Board Of Canada
Producers:  Pierre Lapointe, Adam Symansky, Sally Bochner
Directors:  Dan Curtis
Producing Agencies:  National Film Board of Canada (Montreal)
Subject:  Documentary, Health and Medicine
Language:  English
Country Of Origin:  Canada
Copyright Year:  2004
Running Time:  90:48

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Robert Coley-Donohue has ALS, a fatal degenerative neuro-muscular disease that strikes two in 100,000 people. ALS--also known as Lou Gehrig's disease--struck the Coley-Donohue family twice, taking the lives of both Robert and his wife, Barbara.

Bearing Witness: Robert Coley-Donohue follows Robert over the last three years of his life. A retired machinist, he is determined to make the most of his time. With his faithful dog Brandy usually at his side, he lives independently for as long as possible, going out for coffee with his best friend, taking care of his garden and walking on the beach.

As Robert's physical abilities decline, tasks become harder. He is fitted with a feeding tube. Doing up a simple zipper becomes a challenge and, eventually, an impossibility. Robert's words become fewer, more carefully chosen and more difficult to understand.

In his typically understated way, he says, "This slow deterioration is not fun. Not fun at all." With the help of homecare workers, Victoria Hospice and his three devoted children, Robert remains at home. But the ideal of staying and dying at home soon runs up against some harsh realities. Robert's 24-hour care is expensive, and organizing it becomes almost a full-time job for his children. Eventually, Robert decides to move to a hospital, where he spends the last nine months of his life.

Robert's experience is arduous, but also filled with hope and healing. If, like Robert, we can face death with grace and the comfort of family and friends, then death will hold less fear.

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