Local Filmmakers Document W&M Professor’s Battle with Brain Tumor

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Regina's Gift
Promotional art for “Regina’s Gift.” (Courtesy Stik Dawg Media)

To local documentary filmmakers Mark and Susan Goodin, their latest project is all about the numbers: one woman with a life-threatening brain tumor, three possible surgical outcomes, and two different faiths that played a role in her miraculous recovery.

College of William & Mary professor Regina Root was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2014, but the Goodins, who directed and produced the newly released documentary “Regina’s Gift” under their label Stik Dawg Media, did not first meet her until nearly six months later.

Root had recently undergone a successful major brain surgery and the Goodins heard through their local faith community she and her family were in need of helping hands during her recovery period.

When the Goodins signed up to bring Regina’s family a hot meal one January evening, Regina and her husband Michael invited them in and sat down with them to share their story.

Mark, who has experience working on other documentaries, was looking for a new project to work on with Susan; the couple was immediately drawn to the idea of translating Root’s journey to film.

The Goodins started filming within the month, hoping to document Root’s recovery from that point forward while also retracing the steps she had taken up to that point.

Root, who is now back to researching and continuing with her recovery, first suspected something was wrong while she was on vacation with her family in Colorado in August 2014. During that trip, she began to feel nauseous and off-balance.

When her symptoms abruptly intensified upon her return home, Root headed to Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center for an MRI.

“The doctor told her, ‘I’ve actually never had to tell anyone this, but you have a brain tumor,’” Mark said.

The tumor, which was more precisely identified as a cavernous malformation made up of a runaway growth of blood vessels, was located deep in a sensitive portion of Root’s brain. Sentara does not perform surgeries on this type of growth, so Root was forced to look elsewhere for help.

Woody Jones, producer of "Regina's Gift" theme song "Pray 4 Me," and Susan Goodin, the movie's co-director and producer. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)
Woody Jones, producer of “Regina’s Gift” theme song “Pray 4 Me,” and Susan Goodin, the movie’s co-director and producer. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)

Root traveled to both University of Virginia Health Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital in September to see if one of the nation’s premier medical centers could offer her some hope, but both sets of doctors confirmed surgery was not a viable option because of the tumor’s inaccessibility.

Shortly after Regina was discharged from Johns Hopkins, Mark believes God intervened in an unusual way. Root had a massive hemorrhage that began debilitating all of the functions of her brain.

The hemorrhage was the product of unexpectedly rapid growth of the tumor, which made Root’s situation more dire but also put the tumor within reach from an operating perspective.

“It was both a crisis and an opportunity,” Susan said.

Root was finally in a position where doctors at Johns Hopkins were willing to perform the surgery on her, but the prognosis was not good.

“There were three possible surgical outcomes: die on the table, suffer from a catastrophic event that would put her in a vegetative state or make it through the surgery,” Mark said.

Despite less than favorable odds, Root opted for the surgery, but not before she underwent some spiritual intervention.

Root is a Christian, and her husband is Jewish. When his former Rabbi heard about Regina’s illness, she reached out with an unusual proposal.

“There is a Hebrew tradition that has been passed down through the centuries – the Rabbi is able to give you a new name so that when death comes looking for you, it doesn’t find you,” Susan said.

The diagnosis, hemorrhage, Jewish blessing and surgery took place months prior to the Goodin’s first encounter with Root.

In order to re-create what they had missed, the Goodins got permission to film two other brain surgeries at Johns Hopkins. Mark estimates the final film contains about 12 minutes of actual brain surgery footage.

The Goodins also did extensive interviews with the surgeon, the Rabbi, Root’s family and Regina herself in order to capture their thoughts and feelings on the events that had unfolded.

A visit to Sentara Williamsburg for some transitional shots ended up yielding another important piece for the movie in the form of an inspirational song that has become the emblem for the documentary’s message.

Woody Jones, an administrator of associates at Sentara and an executive producer of independent label Fireball Records LLC, offered to play some of his music for Mark, who fell in love with one track in particular titled “Pray 4 Me.”

Want to Watch?

A screening is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Kimball Theatre with limited seating for the public.

Order a copy of the DVD here.

Visit the Stik Dawg Media website for info about future public screenings.

“That was the first song I let him hear, and he was like ‘I need this song,’” Jones, who co-wrote, produced and performed the song with Donald White Jr. of New York, said. “God works in mysterious ways, and that’s what I love – coming together to make stuff happen.”

Filming on the movie wrapped last December, and the documentary officially debuted at a special screening at St. Stephen Lutheran Church last month.

The movie’s next stop is the Kimball Theatre on Sunday, where it will be screened for friends, family and a large group of medical professionals from Sentara. This showing is open to the public, but the Goodins advise seating will be extremely limited.

As for the documentary’s future, the Goodins are in the process of planning more public screenings and are also selling copies of the DVD through their website. In particular, they hope this movie will be seen by doctors and people in dire medical circumstances.

“I want this film to be seen by anybody who is in trouble –  by anyone dealing with a disability or brain trauma or post-surgical handicaps,” Mark said.

The Goodins also believe their film’s strong faith-based message makes it an inspirational candidate for screenings in churches.

“We knew we wanted this to be a faith-based film,” Susan said. “People in the emergency room every day are hungry for faith and [Root] never lost it. At a time when a lot of people may have shaken off their faith, hers got even stronger.”

As they celebrate the completion and success of this movie, Mark and Susan are confident the relationships they developed over the course of the project will remain with them for years to come.

“Susan and I are a little different than most film people. We enjoy being behind the camera, not in front of it,” Mark said. “The story is really Regina’s and she just gave us the privilege of covering it. We’re really proud of this film, but the thing we’re most proud of is her.”

For more information and to order the documentary, click here.