‘65 Red Roses’: harrowing, moving look at medical crisis

The Oprah Winfrey Network continues its series of first-class documentaries tonight at 9 p.m. with “65 Red Roses,” a feature-length study of how a young Canadian woman and her family coped with the ordeal of an escalating health crisis.

When we meet Eva Markvoort she is in her early 20s and awaiting a double-lung transplant that is her only hope of living more than a few years due to the Cystic Fibrosis she has battled all of her life.

Markvoort has had to drop out of college to simply wait for a hospital beeper to go off, informing her that someone has died, leaving an organ donation request.

I know that this sounds like an unbearably depressing thing to watch on television, but the 2009 film by Philip Lyall and Nimisha Mukerji is as much a story of personal courage and family love as a tale of disease, hospitals and death.

“65 Red Roses” also shows us how the Internet has changed the lives of CF patients, providing them with a unique support system that did not exist a few decades ago.

“The only people who can really understand how I’m feeling right now are the friends I’ve made online,” Eva tells the filmmakers at one point. (In most cases, CF patients can’t meet in person out of a fear that they will transmit “superbugs” to each other that will worsen their condition.)

The film is so well structured, and Eva shares her life in such a highly personal way, that I quickly got over my own aversion to medical crisis stories, and found myself as deeply involved as I would be by any drama.

We fritter away so much time on foolish “reality” programming that, ironically, has no connection with reality that it is shocking to come across non-fiction television that cuts through the bull of “Basketball Wives” and “Monster In-Laws” and all of the other junk featuring raging narcissists and exhibitionists that dominates TV these days.

It’s not surprising that a documentary as unflinching as “65 Red Roses” would take three years to make it to the U.S. television market, but I think those who give it a chance will find it to be impossible to turn away from. Eva Markvoort was strong enough to share the lows and highs of her extraordinary experiences with a camera crew, so who are we to reject her story?

(“65 Red Roses” will debut on OWN tonight at 9 p.m.)

Joe Meyers