In a transplant hospital, the clock is always running. Here, every facet of the human experience – joy, anguish, pain, and a profound appreciation for the beauty of life and the inevitability of death – are concentrated in one building and let loose to roam the halls.
With astonishing access to the most intimate moments of life and death, Vital Bonds brings viewers face-to-face with stories and characters rarely – in some cases never – before filmed. The film follows several threads, most prominently the tragic fate of Matthew, a 28-year old victim of a senseless tragedy, fighting for life surrounded by his shocked parents and family. A floor away, a newborn baby is also fading, while her young parents pray for a miracle. Fathers and grandfathers sit in agonizing limbo, hoping they will have a future with their children if the right organs turn up in time.
And high above, chartered jets crisscross the skies, bearing precious organs and teams of surgeons from one side of the continent to the other. The fascinating and hyper-expensive system for cheating death that is organ transplant medicine.
But these considerations are far from the minds of Matthew’s family. They must confront the worst possible outcome to their trial, and find, if they can, some goodness in it. Vital Bonds follows Matthew’s family through the most testing week of their lives, and beyond to face a strange new reality. They know nothing of the families on the other side of the hospital wall, but the viewer moves from their grief to witness the unspeakable relief and joy that a tragedy like Matthew’s can unlock.
With stunning access, filmmaker Niobe Thompson was able to capture the human side of transplant medicine in unprecedented detail and with unvarnished honesty. We follow organs as they are rushed by air and ground ambulance to the hospital, while the ticking clock threatens to slam the door on their efforts. Through long nights in the surgical theatre, in small meeting rooms inside the ICU, and at the bedside, we witness the painful decisions that lead to life, and death.
A remarkable artistic achievement, managing the dangerous power of un-restricted access to humans at their most vulnerable with genuine sympathy and commitment.
A feature-length version called Memento Mori was also produced, distributed by the National Film Board
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Vital Bonds was produced for CBC’s “The Nature of Things” and PBS NOVA’s “Transplanting Hope”.