Extraordinary story of Halifax’s Dr. Shelly Sarwal set to premiere at 2019 FIN Atlantic International Film Festival

The late Dr. Shelly Sarwal of Halifax (Her Last Project).
The late Dr. Shelly Sarwal of Halifax (Her Last Project).

HALIFAX, N.S. – Her Last Project, a film that chronicles a remarkable woman’s end-of-life journey, premieres on Friday, Sept. 13 as part of the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival’s documentary program. This extraordinary documentary follows Dr. Shelly Sarwal’s story of taking control of her destiny and leaving a lasting legacy.

Diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy, an incurable disease, Dr. Sarwal chose to end her life through medical assistance in dying (MAiD) and to become an organ and tissue donor. As the first person in Nova Scotia to undergo the complicated medical journey of donation after MAID, it was Dr. Sarwal's wish to share her experience as a way to educate the public and the medical community.

After saying goodbye to her closest friends over toast and tea, Dr. Sarwal died peacefully, with her husband at her side. Her organ donation is a gift that impacted many lives.
Her Last Project is directed by Emmy-nominated Rosvita Dransfeld and produced by Canadian Blood Services, in partnership with Legacy of Life at Nova Scotia Health Authority.
This powerful film debuts in Dr. Sarwal's hometown of Halifax. This is where she worked and taught, and where she lived her life among friends and family. It's also where she documented her final days for the benefit of others.

The premiere screening of Her Last Project takes place at 6:20 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13 in Theatre 3 of the Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane in Halifax.

“Our team first met and worked with Shelly as a patient partner. She helped us to develop national guidelines for health professionals involved in organ donation who, due to the passing of MAiD legislation, were faced with the reality of having to care for and engage a new group of potential donors," said Amber Appleby, executive director of Her Last Project and director of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation at Canadian Blood Services.

"This was unfamiliar territory for organ donation specialists and the public," Appleby added. "Shelly and her family bravely and selflessly invited us to chronicle her journey over many months through the MAiD process and subsequent organ and tissue donation. Her gift saved lives and serves to educate the broader health system on this important issue. We are honoured to have had this opportunity to tell her story.”

"It was the first time in my career that I’d collaborated with health agencies in this way," said Her Last Project film director Rosvita Dransfeld. "The team at Canadian Blood Services and NSHA remained highly respectful of Shelly’s and my vision for the film."

"Although already weakened and frail, Shelly remained committed to educate the public about MAID and organ donation," Dransfeld said. "I am honoured to have worked on this project and to have met this woman extraordinaire.” 

Dransfeld is an internationally renowned documentary filmmaker who crafts powerful explorations of the human condition connecting the audience to the subjects on screen in a way that is both moving and respectful. Dransfeld has produced two other high-profile documentaries related to organ donation and transplant, Memento Mori and Vital Bonds. Transplanting Hope, an adaptation of Vital Bonds, has just been nominated for an Emmy.

“Dr. Shelly Sarwal was an extraordinary woman who I had the privilege to know first as a patient and then as a colleague and friend," said Dr. Jennifer Hancock, intensivist at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

"At a time when many of us would look for privacy, Shelly opened up her life to strangers so that they might learn more about end of life compassion, medical assistance in dying and the gift of organ donation," Dr. Hancock said. "She was passionate about educating health professionals and the public on all of these issues. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked with her and learned so much from her during this project.”

Learn more by visiting the 2019 FIN Atlantic International Film Festival and Her Last Project websites. You can also view the trailer for Her Last Project here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_TBdODtVoM.


Media contacts
Canadian Blood Services: 1-877-709-7773 / media@blood.ca
Nova Scotia Health Authority: 1-844-483-3344 / NSHAMedia@nshealth.ca

About Canadian Blood Services
Canadian Blood Services operates with a national scope and infrastructure that makes it unique within the Canadian health care system. In the domain of organs and tissues Canadian Blood Services manages programs that facilitate interprovincial organ sharing and works in collaboration with provincial programs and partners to improve the organ donation and transplantation system. Initiatives led by Canadian Blood Services include the development of leading practices, professional education, public and professional awareness campaigns, and system performance data collection, analysis and reporting.

Every year, thousands of Canadians are added to organ waitlists. There are more than 4,400 people waiting for organ transplants in Canada and an estimated 250 die while waiting for a transplant. A single organ donor can save up to eight lives. Eye and tissue donors can improve the lives of up to 75 patients.

Learn more about organ and tissue donation in Canada at www.blood.ca/organs-tissues.

Nova Scotia Health Authority and Legacy of Life
Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) provides health services to Nova Scotians and a wide array of specialized services to Maritimers and Atlantic Canadians. NSHA operates hospitals, health centres and community-based programs across the province. Our team of health professionals includes employees, doctors, researchers, learners and volunteers.
Legacy of Life is the provincial deceased donation program for Nova Scotia. Established in 2006, the program strives to ensure every Nova Scotian knows about deceased donation and is routinely provided with the opportunity to become a donor as part of optimal end-of-life care. This is achieved through education of the public and healthcare community, adherence to leading care practices and donor family support. Please visit www.nshealth.ca for more information.