When we met, 43-year-old Geeta Anand had a somewhat jumbled to-do list. She had to juggle phone calls from her mother, daughters, nannies and driver to ensure her girls got home from school all right. She was working late into the evening at her Mumbai office to complete a story for The Wall Street Journal , for which she is a senior writer. Oh, and she had a glitzy Hollywood premiere pencilled in somewhere on the list as well.
When Anand—a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist—was based in New York, she wrote two articles in WSJ and later, a book about the Crowley family. The youngest Crowley children, Patrick and Megan, had been diagnosed with Pompe disease, a rare disorder which causes muscle weakness, resulting in death when the heart and breathing muscles are affected. The Cure, published in 2006, explores the desperate struggle of John Crowley and his wife Aileen to find a cure for the disease. John started a biotechnology company to research experimental treatments.
On 19 January, the Crowleys and Anand walked down the red carpet in Los Angeles at the premiere of Extraordinary Measures, with Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell—the actors who have brought their story to life on screen. The movie will release in India in March.
Family ties: Anand’s next book will be about her father’s experiences during Partition.
Anand was covering the biotechnology beat at WSJ when she first heard of the Crowleys. “I’m always drawn to human struggle, and in telling the story, I could talk about the industry I covered,” she says. “The family was so willing to be open about the heroic things they did, but also where they made mistakes.” Though Anand had two young children of her own to care for and a job she loved, she felt passionate enough to take a sabbatical from work to write the book. Her first meeting with the family was so moving that she almost burst into tears and had to struggle to hold herself together.
Ford too was so moved by the story that he wanted to play John in the film. “The Crowleys and me were unsure how he would play the role, because what was interesting about John’s story was that he was 30 when he started the company. He tried to do it because he was so young and naïve,” says Anand. Ford finally essayed the role of the scientist at the company—a bunch of scientists from the book were combined to form his character—and Fraser played John Crowley.
Anand and her family went to Portland last year to watch part of the movie being filmed. “It was fun to see Brendan Fraser, who acted the same scene in a completely different way with each take while Ford did the scene exactly the same way each time. So we weren’t sure what to think—if it was good that Ford knew exactly how he wanted to play it, or that Fraser was experimenting,” she laughs.
The Crowleys also wanted to enjoy the film and its making as much as possible. “They took the kids to watch the filming. They have to take along oxygen tanks, wheelchairs have to be taken apart and put on planes, but it was really special,” she recalls. “When Megan met the girl who was playing her, they held hands and went on the sets together.”
Anand says Ford was very concerned about getting the science right. He hired an assistant scientist from John’s lab to be on the set for a lot of the filming, to ensure that the science was accurate.
Anand, meanwhile, is researching her next book, tentatively titled In My Father’s Footsteps, which traces her father’s journey as a refugee from Pakistan to Mumbai. Anand, who studied in Mumbai’s Cathedral School and was a national swimming champion, moved back to India in 2008 after 20 years in the US, so she could be close to her parents. “I wanted my kids to grow up in India and I wanted to work here,” she says.
As for the Crowley family, “The immediate threats to the children’s lives is gone but they’re disabled and the parents live with the fear that they could lose them any day,” she says. But they take the bus to school, have acted in their school play and have sleepovers. For their parents and Anand, the struggle has paid off.