Foundation for Mitochondrial Medicine


Foundation for Mitochondrial Medicine

I Can’t Imagine

Susan Schreer Davis, contributing writer and Voice of Hope for the mito community and all those seeking inspiration in their day-to-day lives. Follow along each week at, and on social media.

“This one looks interesting,” my husband suggested.

“Are you sure?” I asked, not wanting to waste time on the wrong movie.

“I think so,” he offered. Soon, the 2017 movie, Breathe, began to play in vivid colors on our brand-new TV, drawing us in.

The biographical film depicts the true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, a young couple whose lives are interrupted by polio. When Robin falls ill, he’s placed on a mechanical ventilator and given only three months to live. Not only does he defy the odds and survive, he eventually asks his wife to help him leave the hospital.

Their story alone touched me deeply, perhaps reminding me of the years I cared for my ailing first spouse. But beyond the love that propelled them to stay the course for the next 35 years, I learned how Robin’s determination altered the way the world perceives and takes care of the disabled—especially quadriplegics.

For one, Diana defied a doctor’s orders and took him home. Back then, polio victims never left the hospital. While an electrical outage or accidental unplugging could cause an untimely demise, the risk seemed worth it to Robin.

A hand pump kept him breathing during transport. Once home, Robin worked with a friend to create a wheelchair that held a portable ventilator. That accomplished, they requested an automobile with room for the oversized chair. Not only did Robin escape the confines of the hospital, he traveled the world with his family.

Their journey defies logic and captivates the heart. Yet the image that remains burned in my mind has nothing to do with how Robin lived his life.

When he traveled to Germany to speak at a conference on disabilities, they stopped by a care facility for polio victims. There, they entered a stark, white room where only the heads of patients, stuck out of long, metal boxes. Stacked two high, each victim had a mirror to see themselves and perhaps a portion of the room. Yet they lay confined in the iron lungs, kept “safe” from the outside world.

The horror still haunts me. How did people survive in a white room with machines breathing for them, burrowed away from touch?

I can’t imagine.

In contrast, Robin experienced the world—it’s sounds, colors, smells, and tastes. And as an advocate for others like himself, he radically changed the way the disabled are treated today.

We’ve come a long, long way. No doubt. But we still have a long way to go.

So, join with us as we honor Rare Disease Day and donate $28 in honor of those, like Robin, who fight for a better way.

He saw what others could not. Please consider helping us as we strive to do the same.

About the Author: Susan Schreer Davis lives with her husband, their cat named, Eggs, and the challenging effects ofmitochondrial disease. Learn more about Susan, her latest book and many songs at:

Jez Timms

Click here to catch up on Susan’s posts!

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