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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, February 21, 2003

Hale, Molly Hale, Molly (February 21, 2003)

A new film by Dorothy Fadiman profiles a woman's incredible journey of recovery

by Robyn Israel

W hen Dorothy Fadiman first thought of making a film about Molly Hale, it started out as a small, ancillary project -- a sweet documentary film about a woman recovering from a debilitating spinal cord injury. What evolved, however, was a multi-layered film that exceeded her expectations.

"It started off as a valentine and it turned into a romantic novel in more ways than one," Fadiman said recently in an interview at Hale's Menlo Park home. "It just captivated my heart and my imagination. There's so much humor and hope and poignancy and information."

Entitled "Moment by Moment: The Healing Journey of Molly Hale," the 55-minute documentary chronicles the quadriplegic's incredible efforts to move and walk again after a 1995 car accident. Produced by Concentric Media, Fadiman's Menlo Park-based company, the film will premiere on Sunday at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City.

More than a tale of courage and determination, "Moment by Moment" also chronicles the loving and supportive people who have helped Hale surpass medical predictions.

Today, Hale can walk unassisted in the pool (she goes to the Betty Wright Swim Center at C.A.R. in Palo Alto every day). On solid ground, she can ambulate with assistance. She can easily move her arms, although some finer finger movements are still a work in progress. Maintaining her balance is still a major challenge, she said, and she requires the use of a wheelchair.

"This isn't a fairy tale," Fadiman said. "This is a real person who's used real tools to accomplish real goals without large sums of money."

Key to the story is Hale's beloved husband, Jeramy, who stuck by her throughout the ordeal and continues to share her journey of recovery.

"I decided I wanted to make the film a love story," Fadiman said. "But it turned out to be a constellation of love stories. It's about Molly herself, Molly and Jeramy, and Molly and the community."

When Fadiman, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, set out to make the documentary two and a half years ago, she already knew Hale as a casual acquaintance. Their children had attended the Peninsula School, and the women's paths would regularly cross at parties and other functions. Hale had helped Fadiman edit one of her earlier films, "Why Do These Kids Love School?" (1990). She was also an architectural designer who had won an award from the city of Palo Alto in 1987, in recognition of her solar-design work on a Lowell Avenue home. Hale's work was often featured in Sunset Magazine.

When Fadiman first heard about Hale's accident, she, like so many in the community, was distraught.

"Everyone was in shock," Fadiman recalled. "Molly seemed at that point invincible. That was her persona. Some people, you just think they'll be solid forever."

Within days of her accident, Hale's attending physicians offered her a grim prognosis: There would be no movement past her shoulders for the rest of her life. Undeterred, Hale refused to accept their dire prediction.

"When that information came in, I was able to see their point of view and not wear it, enough where I could say to Jeramy, 'Don't believe them. Don't let them scare you,'" Hale said.

Still, the beginning was a huge adjustment for Hale, who returned home after a two-month hospitalization.

"For the first six months, everything had to be done for me. I couldn't pee. I couldn't eliminate. I couldn't dress. And I had major spasticity. My body would dance around in response to sensory stimulation -- wind, hot and cold, sound. If anyone rattled a newspaper 40 feet away, my body would completely contract into a fetal position. I had no control. It was pretty intense."

Undaunted by her predicament, Hale eschewed the heavy drugs normally prescribed for spasticity and started working out whatever part of her body could move, be it a big toe or a finger. What also dramatically aided Hale's rehabilitation were Hale's many years of practicing aikido, a Japanese martial art, and feldenkrais, a functional movement derived from the way children learn to move from birth.

"From the beginning, I felt I had been prepared for something like this happening in my life," Hale said. "All the skills I had learned with aikido, they lended themselves to having a broken neck, to being told I wouldn't move again."

"I kept playing with the pressure points -- Just imagined my leg moving and then filling in the space. It took a lot of practicing different ways of engaging my body."

Jeramy marvels at what his wife has accomplished and thinks she is a wonderful role model for people with spinal-cord injuries.

"This isn't hocus-pocus," Jeramy said of his wife's methods. "It's no more New Age than 2000 years of acupuncture. These are ideas available to everyone."

"(But) it's a search and there's no road map for it. Most people don't attempt it because it's so slow and there hasn't been a lot of encouragement. The general mentality is that those kinds of injuries are the end. There's a ton of people in wheelchairs who have given up."

What also impressed Fadiman was how Jeramy did not give up on Molly -- a rare story of support that eventually turned him into a central character in the film.

"What we learned was that the majority of partners leave after a catastrophic accident," Fadiman said. "So the question, 'Why does someone stay?' became an interesting story within a story."

"At feedback screenings, viewers could identify with Jeramy, in a way they couldn't with Molly. It was a way into the story that spinal-cord injury didn't have."

Hale's accident, which occurred seven years into their marriage, set Jeramy on a separate journey, on which he discovered what was most valuable to him.

"The truth of the matter is, if I were 18, I would have left," Jeramy said. "(But) at this point in my life, I love this woman. She's had an accident. What else has changed? My ability to love her? For me, it's been an opportunity to find out a lot about myself, what I care about, the kind of person I want to be. It was clear I love Molly and the accident didn't change that."

In making the film, Fadiman realized that the project raised more questions than answers. So, to address its myriad issues, there will also be a resource DVD that targets 30 different topics, such as aikido, feldenkrais, etc. The Hales, along with "Moment by Moment" co-producer Anilise Hyllmon, are working on the DVD project, which will include the documentary. The DVD is scheduled for release in June.

"It's saved me from feeling guilt and defensiveness that I've told this amazing story, (without addressing other issues in depth)," Fadiman said.

Today Hale, 53, is still focusing the majority of her efforts on her rehabilitation. She has no doubt in her mind that one day she will walk again.

"I'm still progressing. It's layering," Hale said. "Because of the aikido, you train, you do the same technique over and over again. That continues for life. I understand just to be patient. I'm trained in that. Sometimes I go backwards, only to discover I'm going forward."

What: "Moment by Moment: The Healing Journey of Molly Hale," a new film by Dorothy Fadiman and her team at Concentric Media. Also premiering will be "Breaking the Silence: Lifting the Stigma of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia"

Where: The Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway in Redwood City

When: Sunday at 7 p.m. There will be a fundraising reception from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Doors will open for the screening at 6:15 p.m.

Cost: Tickets are $18 general admission; $10 students/seniors/individuals in wheelchairs. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Stanford Ticket Office at (650) 725-ARTS (2787). Reception tickets are $75 per person and include admission to the screening, champagne and hors d'oeuvres; they can be purchased only from Concentric Media; (650) 321-6530 or

Info: Call (650) 321-6530 or e-mail For more information on Molly Hale, visit


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