When anyone starts out in business, it’s not unfair to say their intentions are - making money aside - to help other people. While that statement covers many diverse scenarios, I’m sure we can all think of times when our products or services have ultimately improved the life of our users, clients and customers. Making a profit does not have to be mutually exclusive from making the world a better place.
One thing I never expected we’d be doing in our little corner of the film production industry, is helping to save lives.
Before we established Jellyfielder Studios as a limited company, our first flurry of paid work was in the Corporate Social Responsibility sphere. We cut our corporate video teeth covering the positive work employees of central London companies were doing, by giving their time to and raising funds for local community projects.
We then landed a tendered contract with the NHS that would lead us into the medical and healthcare sector. Working alongside the National Cancer Action Team, we produced a series of docu-drama videos designed to aid Multidisciplinary Teams conduct patient care meetings with best practice. Training materials were distributed to hospitals across the country, including a DVD of the videos we produced.
That experience then led us to an opportunity with the Clinical Trials Unit at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Founded in 1899, LSHTM is one of the leading public research universities in the world. The CTU is responsible for planning and coordinating global drug and treatment trials, across a network of collaborators spanning 50 countries. When we met the CTU Team in 2012. they were looking to launch CRASH-3 - a trial continuing their research into tranexamic acid (TXA.)
We were given the opportunity to produce training films that were to be used help medical professionals recruit and correctly induct patients into the randomised drug trial. We had access to the emergency response team at the Royal London Hospital, enabling us to simulate a road traffic crash victim receiving treatment, and requiring intervention for head trauma.
It was an exciting and fascinating insight into life at the frontline of emergency healthcare. The training films needed voice overs in English, French and Spanish, which was the first time we knew our work would be seen by an international audience.
After the successful delivery of the CRASH-3 project, our association with the CTU continued in a similar vein, with work on HALT-IT. This trial was looking at TXA being used as an intervention for gastrointestinal bleeding. That time we filmed in Leicester and London, including interviews will leading figures in the trial about their intentions and goals.
When West Africa suffered an outbreak of Ebola virus disease in 2014, the CTU very quickly arranged a shoot to demonstrate numerous methods of gaining parenteral access in patients. CTU staff stood in as patients, while the medical professionals had to wear full protective clothing, just as they would in Ebola treatment scenarios in challenging conditions. The subsequent video was covered in and shared by The Lancet.
The project that’s had the most profound personal affect, however, is that for the WOMAN Trial. This time, TXA was being trialled as a means to reduce mortality in women in childbirth. Many mothers suffer from postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) as a complication, and in developing countries, the number who die as a result of this bleeding is shockingly high.
In November 2013, I was privileged to travel to Nigeria, to work alongside CTU research collaborators at University College Hospital, Ibadan. I had never before been to Africa, and it remains the furthest I’ve ever traveled for work. For one week, Professor Haleema Shakur-Still, myself and our local support crew travelled the country, meeting the most extraordinary people.
All of whom had something in common. Their lives had been forever altered by postpartum haemorrhage. Some had survived it themselves, while others had lost loved ones, and many were expectant mothers eager for the best possible care. At the Ibadan Home for Motherless Babies, we witnessed the consequences of what happens when women lose their lives in a society that depends so heavily on motherhood.
For all the long, hot November days on potholed roads between towns - and the undulating, rocky terrain that passes as roads in rural areas - we were always greeted into homes and hospitals with the warmest of welcomes. The generosity of spirit and hospitality, in spite of having difficult and often heartbreaking stories to share - was overwhelming.
On one occasion, we rushed to the Adeoyo Maternity Hospital, where a woman in childbirth was about to be enrolled in the WOMAN Trial. Suffering from PPH, her family was present and the necessary consent was obtained. Having left while her situation was still perilous, there was a cloud of preoccupation hanging over us the following day. Finally, the good news came through and we returned to find our new mother recuperating in good spirits, finally able to spend time with her newborn twins.
The strange thing I’ve discovered about being a filmmaker, is that the lens insulates you from events taking place in front of the camera. Concentrating on technical elements when filming interviews renders the mind unable to focus on what is actually being said. You recognise words purely as sounds, as the meanings are lost while listening out for noises that shouldn’t be there.
It wasn’t until returning home and sharing the interview rushes with other people, that the true emotional impact of the material hit me. Fellow Jellyfielder Chris in particular, was in awe of the stories we’d been so fortunate to capture, and wondered how I’d managed to hold it together on set.
The truth is, I was in survival mode for most of that adventure. Not that my life was in danger, but the relentless schedule, the uncomfortable travelling, the sheer number of people we spoke with, homesickness and the usual technical challenges was a uniquely overwhelming combination. Allowing myself to have gotten even remotely emotionally involved at the time would have been too much. Everything, of course, proved to be all worthwhile.
During the years since, the testimonies and footage we recorded have gone on to inspire more healthcare centres to participate in the WOMAN Trial, raise greater awareness of PPH and help tackle issues surrounding maternal mortality around the world. Such were the positive results of the trial published in 2017, that the WOMAN-2 trial is expanding the research effort into TXA and its potential benefits towards lifesaving interventions.
We have only played a small part in these processes, but I will always be grateful for all our experiences relating to healthcare and making tangible, positive changes to life on our planet.
Sadly, in 2019,Professor Bukola Fawole, the WOMAN Trial Nigeria national coordinator and generous host of our visit, unexpectedly passed away, aged 58. His iconic work will never be forgotten.