Salt In My Soul

Review by Willard Manus

Cystic fibrosis is one of the most lethal diseases known to man, a genetic bacterial infection that attacks and eventually destroys a person’s respiratory system.

In SALT IN MY SOUL we meet one of CF’s victims, Mallory Smith, a vibrant young woman who battled the disease for almost all of her 25 years, leaving a legacy of courage, creativity and love for us to reflect on.

The new documentary film, directed by Will Battersby and shot by Frederic Fasano, tells a heart-rending story that manages at the same time to be uplifting, thanks to Mallory’s indomitable strength and spirit, which rarely wavered as she fought to live fully and meaningfully until the end.

Working with snapshots, talking-head interviews and, above all, footage of the various stages of Mallory’s life--depicting her as a student, an athlete, a dutiful daughter, a giddy, boy-crazy teenager, a mature woman--Battersby has put together a ninety-minute film that paints a multi-dimensional portrait of a remarkable person, one who represents everything that is good about the human race.

Mallory’s medical history dominates the film. We see how the disease attacked her when she was young and steadily worsened over the years, making it harder and harder for her to breathe without difficulty. Her primary doctors did everything they could for her: she was given oxygen and various antibiotic cocktails, spent time in hospital beds and wards. At times the treatments worked well; she was able to attend high-school, play volleyball and water polo, go diving in Hawaii (the salt water was beneficial), and more. She was effervescent and bubbly, popular with friends and teachers. She also was an excellent student, one who showed much literary promise.

At Stanford she fell in love with a classmate who loved her back and wasn’t put off when she suffered one of her attacks and ended up in hospital again. Mallory was lucky in that regard; her friends and especially her parents were always there for her when she became ill and depressed, offering unconditional warmth and support.

When her symptoms worsened and she became bed-ridden, Mallory’s mother moved into her hospital room and stayed by her side. Her father (an attorney) spent most of his free time researching cystic fibrosis and trying to locate a lung donor.

It took more than a year, but finally a donor was found and Mallory underwent an 8-hour-long operation (some of which is shown in the film). The transplant was successful at first; Mallory could once again breathe and move about on her own. She believed she’d be able to live for at least another ten years, only to have a relapse some months later when super-bacteria attacked her respiratory system. The doctors gave her up for dead, but her father persisted with his research and found an earlier, once-popular medicine (Phage Therapy) that might possibly save her life.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. Mallory died soon after but Phage Therapy has managed to keep numerous other CF patients alive. As a result, several major pharmaceutical firms have re-invested in the drug, believing that with further improvement it could lead to a reliable cure for cystic fibrosis and other related bacterial diseases. All the profits from SALT IN THE SOUL, by the way, will go toward supporting this all-important research.

After Mallory’s death her parents learned that she had been keeping a secret diary. Recognizing its literary worth, they found a publisher and the diary’s edited version was released two years ago (under the title of SALT IN MY SOUL) and became a best-seller.

The book and the documentary are testaments to Mallory’s short, tragic, but ultimately inspiring life.