(Please welcome back, Marc Smolowitz, Ana Stenzel, and Isabel Stenzel Byrnes)
The Power of Two, directed by Marc Smolowitz, is a powerful and evocative documentary about two extraordinary women, twins Anabel Stenzel and Isabel Stenzel Byrnes, their battle with the fatal genetic disease cystic fibrosis (CF) and their miraculous survival through double lung transplants. Their story takes us through their lives as they emerge as advocates for organ donation both in the United States and in in their mother’s native country, Japan, where they attempt to change the cultural resistance to the idea of organ donation.
Born with CF, the twins were not expected to reach adulthood, but they defied the odds through nutrition and rigorous treatments, eventually attending Stanford where Isa met her future husband Andrew Byrnes, who produced The Power of Two. The twins attended graduate school and began their careers as a genetic counselor (Ana) and social worker (Isa).
But by their mid- to-late twenties, CF was impacting them greatly and they were placed on the waiting list for donor lungs. In 2000, Ana received her first set of lungs from a young man, James who was pronounced brain dead. (Her body began rejection in 2006 and she has since received a second set from an anonymous donor). James’ family explains how they voted unanimously to donate the organs. Isa was close to death in 2004 when she received her lungs from Xavier, a young man killed in a car accident who had told his family just MONTHS earlier that he wanted his organs donated.
Only 37% of Americans 18 and over are registered donors, and the opt-in rate for organ donation in the 18-25 age group has markedly decreased since 2004. The Power of Two shows how organ donation is a gift of resurrection and new life for the recipient. And it also provides rare insight into the struggles — and overlooked joys — of chronic illness which has great potential to teach awareness and appreciation of life.
Since their transplants, the twins’ activities have included running a half marathon, climbing several 10,000 foot mountain peak, swimming and running in the U.S. Transplant Games, traveling across three continents, and writing their memoir, The Power of Two: A Twin Triumph Over Cystic Fibrosis,
Along with being an inspiration personal story, The Power Of Two also shows the importance of patient and public health advocacy in effecting change and improving health care, as well as demonstrating the promising aspects of the U.S. health care system.