Series: With Every Breath – Millions of Breathing Machines. One Dangerous Defect
In 2021, Philips Respironics recalled its DreamStation breathing machines, along with other sleep apnea devices and ventilators, leaving millions of customers worldwide waiting for replacements. Foam inside the machines could crumble in heat and humidity, sending potentially carcinogenic materials into the lungs of patients.
I spent eight months making a film about this, following sleep apnea patients through airports to doctor appointments. I recorded their home lives, their bedtime routines. I tried to capture the claustrophobic details of the mask that fits tightly over the nose and mouth.
In February 2023, when I first began having conversations with the reporting team investigating the recall about making a film about sleep apnea, I wondered how I would visualize sleep. I could use interviews to spell out the intricacies of what went wrong, but how would I bring the reality of restricted breath to the screen? And why would someone who doesn’t have sleep apnea choose to watch this?
I got part of that answer from one of the film’s participants, Dr. Carol Stark, who said: “Sleep isn’t a luxury. It isn’t optional.”
What these patients need help doing — breathing while sleeping — is something that I took for granted...