Does Five Feet Apart Accurately Portray Cystic Fibrosis?

Five Feet Apart, a film released last month, follows the life of several teenagers with cystic fibrosis. They live in a hospital, and experience many events that are believable to those uneducated about the disease. However, many concerns have been raised about the accuracy of the teen’s conditions. So the question is, how well does the movie portray life with cystic fibrosis?

  Cystic fibrosis is a genetically inherited disorder that affects cells that produce mucus, making it thicker than normal. The liquid blocks passageways mostly in the pancreas and lungs, making it difficult to maintain weight. It is a recessive gene, meaning that both parents have to pass on the gene for the child to receive it. Recessive genes can also be carried by an individual, in fact, about 1 in 35 Americans are carriers of CF.

  Courtney Hall, a Child Life Specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital works with children who have CF. She explains that the disease varies between different people, “typically individuals with CF do airway clearance therapies multiple times per day, take…pills with all meals, …and patients who have difficulty gaining weight…get tube feeds to provide their body with additional calories.”

  Stella and Will, the main characters in Five Feet Apart, are dealing with life as CF patients in a hospital. Stella makes vlogs about her treatments, and, later in the movie, about her growing love for Will. Since they both have the disorder, they are required to always be six feet apart from each other (though Stella changes it to five feet as they start to fall in love).

  They also have a fellow “CFer” friend, Poe, who urges them towards each other. One day, however, Poe has a coughing episode and instantly dies on the floor. The characters were devastated to see a young patient’s life pass so quickly.

  However heart wrenching the event, it was rather incorrect.  “That scene depicted CF death as random and spontaneous”, Hall explains, “which is not accurate or typical.”

  Another idea from the film that is untrue to real life CF patients is their life span. It made it clear that many don’t live past their 20’s, which is falsified with recent treatment development.

  “[It] may have been accurate 20 years ago, however due to advances in research and treatments many patients are living into their 30’s and beyond.”

  On the other hand, Five Feet Apart portrays daily life rather accurately. Patients are limited to daily hospitalization and often miss out on social events, like when Stella’s friends went on a trip without her.

  However, Hall mentions, “CF patients are always under isolation precautions… so every part of the movie when CF patients were hanging out and socializing in the hallways or in other areas of the hospital was pretty unrealistic.”

   The physical effects of cystic fibrosis are shown correctly in the movie, like having scars, being underweight and coughing frequently.

   Hall made apparent that the film has had some negative effects on adolescent CF patients.

  “the portrayal of Poe appearing to die with no further explanation besides the coughing episode immediately prior has been a huge concern.”

  She worries that the dramatic nature of the film creates fear of early death and negativity towards the disease.

  “It is a very exciting time for Cystic Fibrosis research”, Hall explains, “as researchers have started developing and trialing different drugs to not only treat CF symptoms but to treat the underlying cause of CF.”

 She hopes this extensive research will find a cure in the next half century.

  Hall notes that she is not a medical provider, so anyone seeking medical information should reach out to a valid organization.

  Five Feet Apart is successful in introducing the daily life of a cystic fibrosis patient to those who might not know about the disease. However exaggerated, the movie brings to light the struggles of the disease, and hopefully makes a platform to which real life CF patients can relate.