A Woman’s Love Fires Awareness: Breathe

A Woman's Love Fires Awareness: Breathe

Sometimes it’s a circuitous road to knowledge; sometimes it’s a circuitous road to invention.

THE START: I loved Claire Foy in THE CROWN;
Now she plays the role of Diana Cavendish in the 2017 film BREATHE.
So I rented it and my husband and I were enthralled.
The film is the story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) who in 1958 was struck with Polio while living in Kenya, his wife Diana pregnant with their first child. Polio paralyzed Robin from the neck down and over time did allow him to speak. But Robin could not breathe on his own and thus had to be chained to a respirator for the rest of his life.
THE MIDDLE: Robin wished for death. But pregnant Diana visited him frequently in the hospital ward where he lay staring at the ceiling. Finally, she brought him his newborn child, a son. Robin still wanted to die. But Diana’s love persisted, and soon Robin began to smile and enjoyed having his son lay close to his face. He could smell the newborn, watch him grow as his depression started to fall away.
But Diana wanted him home. The head of the Kenyan Hospital said no. He would die in weeks. Diana persisted, and with the help of another doctor she and a group of nurses wheeled him out of the ward, the respirator still attached.
THE FINISH: Robin Cavendish lived with his family to the age of 64. Step by step, the years were good to him, because Diana, with technology constantly improving, gave him constant love and encouraged him to accept his life. Robin moved from a bed to a large wheel chair equipped with a battery-operated respirator. A truck was refigured so that he could travel. A plane bore his truck to Spain so that he could again see the world. Over time, he and Diana took on the mantel of spreading the word, so that the men he had known in the Kenyan hospital were also able to leave and be with family, live their lives.
But the most amazing part of the film for me, occurred when the couple traveled to Germany, Robin to speak to a large group of physicians who were working with the disabled. In order to get to the hall where he would speak, he had to ascend an elevator in his chair. The chair could not fit through the opening. So, they actually pulled framing from the elevator door so that Robin could access the lift.
INVENTION: THE BRAIN LIGHTS UP: people with disabilities can travel in wheel chairs, even use portable respirators, but fix the damn elevators to accommodate those chairs!
The son that Robin and Diana had is Jonathan, now a film producer who runs the company Imagination Studios with actor/director Andy Serkis. Jonathan commissioned writer William Nicholson to create the screenplay that would present his father’s life and work. Breathe appeared in 2017.
Jonathan related  the reason that his father decided to claim his life and go on helping disabled people world-wide. He said that at first Robin was eager to have them “turn off the machine”–telling Diana, “You can start again,” But then Jonathan recounts, “She wasn’t having any of it.” Thus through love and encouragement and the industry of inventors and thinkers, Robin went on living and in the process helped so many others.
  • In the 1960s Robin tracked down and listed the circumstances of all the responauts ( a person permanently dependent upon a ventilator to maintain breathing.) This became the first record of the number of people confined to iron lungs in Great Britain.
  • In 1962, working with his friend Teddy Hall, an Oxford University professor, they created a wheelchair with a built-in respirator. Over his lifetime, Robin used a total of 10 different chairs, each improving his quality of life.
  • Robin raised money for the first group of chairs, eventually persuading what was then called the British Department of Health to fund a series of chairs manufactured by Teddy Hall’s company, Littlemore Scientific Engineering.
  • Robin also worked with scientists at Stoke Mandeville Hospital to create what was called THE POSSUM. It allowed users to use the telephone, turn on the TV and adjust heating controls with only the left-right turn of one’s head.
  • Robin also raised money so that others in his condition could travel.


In today’s world, many people with disabilities live lives that are so productive, they make me feel like a slacker. Consider: Stephen Hawking; Franklin Roosevelt; Marlee Matlin; Tammy Duckworth; Itzhak Perlman and Harriet Tubman.

Since the new administration has come on board, the fight to continue to help disabled Americans has increased. We need everyone to step up when they can and help people with disabilities live lives that enable them to function, work, travel and enjoy what society has to offer. So, Thanks for reading. And please check out the following which was sent to me by a dear friend. This is his niece. Raising awareness is so important.

P.S. This year I’m turning 30 on the 30th (how did that happen!?) One of my birthday wishes is to live in a world free of HD. (HD is Huntington’s Disease.) Too many people have suffered at the hands of this disease and it’s very personal for me. Let’s find a cure. I don’t think that’ll be coming true this year, but I am confident and have faith that one day it can. In lieu of birthday gifts, I’m on a mission to raise $5,000 to go to our Austin Hope Walk benefitting the HDSA. Would you make a donation – in the amount most meaningful to you – so I can reach my goal? Could you give me an extra bump by sharing the link with anyone you know of?  

Thank you in advance all for your support!

9 thoughts on “A Woman’s Love Fires Awareness: Breathe

  1. I saw BREATHE with my wife, Rita. We were riveted. True stories are always amazing, but this love story actually led to helping others. People who are reliant on a respirator can now find ways to live active lives. Diana and Robin Cavendish (on whom the story is based) were pioneers in making these machines portable, despite their size. Claire Foy carries the role of Diana Cavendish so well. For it was her love and devotion that inspired her husband, Robin, to embrace their child and live his life to the fullest.

  2. It is amazing what some people accomplish with love and determination. I love that their son is continuing this work. Thanks for the review Beth.

  3. Cried all through the synopsis of that movie. I teach a wonderful young man who is paralyzed from the chest down with only minimal use of his head and right shoulder. His chair is a work of art. How grateful I am to those visionaries who give these wonderful people the chance to be–at least a little–independent!

    • Thank you, Diana. I really had no idea what the film was about, but these two amazing people pulled me in. And now their son tells their story. It’s such a celebration.

  4. Hi Beth! What an amazing story about the power of love and intention. It is clear that both Robin and Diana are/were amazing people. I think we are all more capable than most of us usually acknowledge. Thank you for sharing their inspiring story with us all, and may way we all find a way to give right where we are. ~Kathy

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