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Finding hope, camera rolling
« on: October 16, 2008, 05:26:14 PM »

Donsbach mentioned. You can leave comments after the article.

http://suburbanjournals.stltoday.com/articles/2008/10/15/stcharles/life/sj2tn20081014-1015stc-movie0.txt.txt

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Suburban Journals

Last modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 11:15 AM CDT
ROY SYKES PHOTO --

Amanda (left) and Danielle Moody recently attended two
screenings of "Illegal Hope," a documentary about their family's choice for
their dying mother to seek alternative cancer treatments from a clinic in
Mexico.

Finding hope, camera rolling

By Jami Defenbaugh

On Aug. 14, 2006, Peri Carter was diagnosed with brain cancer.

By Aug. 20, she was on a plane to Mexico for alternative medicine.

There she stayed for three weeks, returning twice more through Dec. 15.

On Jan. 5, she died.

It was Sept. 19 - just more than two years since their nightmare had begun -
when daughters Amanda and Danielle Moody calmly recalled these dates.
Amanda, 18, spoke quickly while Danielle, 20, gave her thoughts time to
unfold. Both of them cried, but only once. It was not the first time they
had relived bad memories.

That's partly because most of them are preserved on film. The sisters had
spent the past weekend hosting a screening of "Illegal Hope," a documentary
made about their mother by California filmmaker David Ingrassano.

The family met Ingrassano during their first day at Hospital Santa Monica in
Rosarito Beach. All the patients at the Mexican clinic were told he was
filming a movie and asked to raise their hands if they didn't want to be on
camera.

Upon meeting Peri, her daughters and their stepfather, David, Ingrassano
chose to follow them their entire stay. From there, their relationship grew.
He returned to Mexico, visited them in their Missouri home and, when Peri
took a turn for the worse, stayed with them at a San Diego hospital.

Amanda and Danielle were two of about 400 people who attended the "Illegal
Hope" premiere Aug. 23 in Orange, Calif., and about 120 friends and family
members attended the local screening at the Timberland High School
auditorium in Wentzville.

The experience, both times, was emotionally draining, they said.

"Most movies end and people clap," Danielle said. "At this one, almost
everyone just cried."

'WHY GOD GAVE ME CANCER'

"Illegal Hope" isn't the first movie to bring tears to the sisters' eyes
since their mother's passing. In May 2007, Amanda and Danielle immersed
themselves in the filming of "Dancing with Angels," a story Danielle wrote
and Amanda turned into a screenplay, along with the help of their mom. Their
hope was that the movie would touch lives and glorify God, and it was Peri's
dying wish to see it finished, they have said.

About 30 people, many who attended their church, volunteered to act, help
with equipment and run lines. They wrapped up the project in August 2007 and
held a screening that October. These days, in addition to selling copies of
the movie online, they pass it out to friends they meet at social events or
while traveling.

"I need one or two copies in my car always," Amanda said. "You never know
when the opportunity will come up."

She likely got that attitude from their mother. Both girls recalled the day
Peri was diagnosed at SSM St. Joseph Hospital West in Lake Saint Louis.
Doctors gave her no more than a year to live if she underwent chemotherapy
and radiation treatments.

"Imagine this," Danielle said last year. "She didn't even care. She just
said, 'Can I talk to the floor manager? I need permission for my daughters
to film in a hospital.' Then she told us, 'This is why God gave me cancer.
We needed a hospital, and now we have one.'"

Her first day in Mexico, Amanda said, though her mother couldn't talk, she
grunted and waved her head, pushing them to tell Ingrassano about their own
movie. Shortly after, his camera was following them around.

The interviews that followed were difficult. Amanda, a self-described
talker, was quiet on film, often giving one-word answers and wiping away
tears. Danielle, normally the shy type, expressed herself well on film,
though filmmakers never caught her crying. Questions included what it was
like for them to hear Peri's diagnosis, how they grew up and what they would
do if their mother died.

Honestly, Amanda said, they never thought of life without their mother as an
option.

SEARCH FOR AN ALTERNATIVE

As cancer ran in Peri's family, she often felt it was only a matter of time
before she was diagnosed, the girls said. When that time came, they said,
Peri wanted no chemotherapy or radiation.

Neither Amanda nor Danielle had ever known of any other available treatment,
until a woman they had met two weeks earlier told them she was cured of
ovarian cancer by alternative medicine in Mexico. She suggested the family
go to the clinic.

"I'm coming to bring hope," the girls remember her saying. Hope was all they
needed to hear.

Alternative medicine, or unconventional medicine, is used to treat cancer in
place of conventional medicine, such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Examples of the treatments range from dietary supplements, acupuncture and
oxygen treatments to consuming shark cartilage; insulin potentiation
therapy, which is based on the notion that intravenous insulin increases the
effect of medications so that lower doses can be used; or treatments with
Laetrile, a purified form of the chemical amygdalin, which is a plant
compound that contains sugar and produces cyanide.

Because evidence of the safety and effectiveness of unconventional cancer
treatments does not currently exist, the Food and Drug Administration,
Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Postal Service influence the use of
most of them by restricting their availability, marketing and advertising.

Some states also have laws with provisions regulating unconventional cancer
treatments. Some specify that cancer can be treated only by certain licensed
health professionals, others authorize the state health agency to approve
cancer treatments before their use, and states such as California have laws
making certain unconventional cancer treatments illegal.

Supporters of alternative medicine claim all these laws limit patients'
ability to choose and obtain treatments according to their own views. This
is the argument made in "Illegal Hope." The Web site for the documentary,
www.illegalhope.net, says the laws jeopardize the profits of medical giants
in America, and that the U.S. government in the past few years has forced
the closure of more than 60 hospitals in Mexico that treated paying American
citizens.

But opponents, including mainstream medical authorities, say the treatments
are dangerous, as they waste patients' time and money, and interfere with or
delay appropriate treatment. And for years controversial alternative clinics
in Mexico have come under fire for similar claims, including that they are
controlled by Americans without medical degrees who are escaping medical
investigations in the United States.

Hospital Santa Monica, where Peri and her family stayed, was shut down in
2006 by Baja state health officials after being linked to the death of
Coretta Scott King, but since has reopened. The New York Times and The San
Diego Union Tribune have reported its director, Kurt Donsbach, does not have
a medical degree, has a long history of run-ins with the law and is known
for offering medical treatments considered dubious by many medical experts.

During their stays, Amanda and Danielle remembered fleeing the hospital and
staying in a nearby trailer with their family while the Mexican government
searched the facility and told staff to shut it down.

But the sisters said their experience at Hospital Santa Monica was positive.
Doctors there boasted of huge success rates. They used insulin to treat
Peri's cancer, as well as vitamins, heat wraps, a strict diet and
chlorophyll. She could talk by the end of the first week, and from there her
health only progressed. Yet, each time they returned home, her health
rapidly declined.

At one point, Peri's condition worsened so much that Amanda and Danielle (to
whom Peri had left medical decisions) chose to try radiation, and for nearly
a month, drove their mother each day to a nearby facility that practiced
conventional medicine.

Ingrassano was there the day the decision was made.

"That was probably the toughest day," he said. "I knew Peri didn't want it
done. But the girls at that point didn't want to lose their mom and were
willing to try whatever it was going to take."

Peri later developed pneumonia and was sent to a hospital in San Diego.
Danielle and Amanda sat with their mom in shifts, though they weren't able
to communicate with her.

By that time, the camera was shut off.

LIVES TAKE A TURN

Ingrassano hadn't expected those types of scenarios when he began his project.

"It was very tough," he said. "I slept in their home. I stayed in the
hospital with them. I cried all the time, I guess. It was very sad for me.
They're kind of like little sisters to me, in a way, and I care what happens
to them."

He could relate to them, too, Ingrassano said: When he was 24 he became very
ill, was bedridden and dropped to 119 pounds. Conventional medicine couldn't
cure him or ease his frustrations, he said.

But Donsbach and his staff did both, he said. Ingrassano spent three weeks
at the Mexican facility and later went back for five more, during which he
was treated with hydrogen peroxide therapy, high doses of vitamin C and
other alternative therapies. Because he had no money at the time, someone
anonymously donated about $20,000 for his treatment. The donor's only
condition was that Ingrassano pay it forward.

Ingrassano, now 38, said he filmed "Illegal Hope" for that very purpose.

"To give patients a voice," he said. "They're the little people, and I
wanted to let them speak. It's their body, their choice and because this is
a free country, I think they should be able to speak."

The premieres were a success, Ingrassano said, particularly because of
strangers who were visibly moved and moments when Peri's friends or family,
some of whom opposed the treatment she sought, thanked him for making a
beautiful film.

Amanda and Danielle struggled. People would come to them crying, telling
them they were heroes, Danielle said, but it was hard for them to relive
their own pain. They would spend all day psyching themselves up. Friends who
didn't know their mom encountered a sick, physically weak person on film.
The girls' biological father asked them to stop watching it because it was
too hard.

Life for Amanda and Danielle is now a lot different than they expected. Not
long after Peri died, they moved from Wright City into their biological
father's home in Winfield. Amanda works for an insurance company in St.
Peters and Danielle is a photographer and full-time nanny for an O'Fallon
family. Both say it's hard to work for the first time, as they have always
wanted to be wives and mothers, themselves.

They try to stay positive. On one hand, it's wonderful to have the last five
months of your mother's life on film, Danielle said. And two movies inspired
by their mom have touched others in ways they never expected, Amanda said.

"Yeah, it's hard," she said. "But seeing the good is like seeing the light
at the end of the tunnel. At least we're getting somewhere."

Most importantly, they said, any strength they have has come from God.

And no movie can take the place of their mother.

"She was like my life, and when she died, a huge part of me died," Danielle
said. "I would have rather never made the movie, met the people or know the
things I know. I'd give it all back."

WANT TO WATCH?

Visit www.illegalhope.net to comment on the movie, set up your own screening
or purchase the film.

Visit www.dancingwithangelsthemovie.com for more information on Danielle and
Amanda's own movie, which they wrote with the help of their mother.
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