Return to Me & Accurate Representation of CHD in Entertainment

There’s always a bit of a thrill that comes with finding characters with CHD in a movie or a book. It’s an opportunity to our stories on screen, to know, somewhere in the world, thousands of people are reading about CHD. Some get it right, some are a bit off, but every effort to include CHD in the mainstream is a step closer to broader awareness. 

As a 90’s kid in Chicago, I have always been partial to Return to Me. But it’s more than the familiarity of the setting that tugged at my heart. It was one very specific scene.  

Released in 1999, Return to Me is the story of Grace, in need of a transplant, who receives the heart of a woman whose husband she later falls in love with. It’s outlandish, an astronomically unlikely situation, but in some ways the movie as a whole is very relatable. 

Early on in the movie, Grace is wheeled off to surgery, and right before she goes into the OR, she stops at her grandpa’s side. There Grace tells her grandpa that she loves him. And she is rolled away to get her new heart. 

This admittedly cliche scene stunned me the first time I saw it. Just one year earlier, I was being wheeled off to my second open-heart surgery. On my way to the OR, we stopped at my own grandfather’s side, where the last thing I said was, “I love you.” It was something that stuck with me because we didn’t often say it out loud.  Seeing this played out on screen took me right back to Children’s Memorial. And even now, 20+ years later, I still immediately tear up at that scene.

The movie is not without its flaws

Grace’s heart condition is unclear. She mentions that she has the same condition her mother had and that she’s been sick since she was 14. Is it technically CHD? Did she start to experience symptoms at 14, was she diagnosed then, what exactly was wrong with Grace’s heart? Additionally, it’s fair to point out that the movie has a pretty sanitized take on Grace’s heart disease. We are never given the answer to these questions or the nitty-gritty details because her disease is not the focus.

What they did pretty well

However, I think Return to Me does a good job of addressing some of the complicated issues patients deal with as we take on life: body image, Grace worries others will judge her based on her scar; taking risks, she takes on her dream of painting in Italy; the delicate balance between gratitude and wanting to be normal, knowing how lucky she is, Grace feels guilty that she still has bad days; opening up to new people in our lives, it takes some time before Grace is ready tell Bob (her love interest) about her surgery. The movie also includes the continued care needed and highlights the tremendous amount of support from family and friends that make managing it all possible.

I recommend it if you haven’t seen it, but, again, I’m partial.

Grace is not the only character with CHD in pop culture, I’m sure many of you have favorites of your own.  Who got it right? Who got it so, so wrong?

Other instances of CHD in Entertainment

Movies and TV

  1. Rosewood – Dr. Beaumont Rosewood 
  2. Untamed Heart – Adam
  3. Gattaca – Vincent Freeman
  4. 7 Pounds – Emily Posa
  5. Dead to Me – Ben Wood
  6. Good Witch – Dr. Monica McBride
  7. Rock My Heart – Jana Hilbig

Books

  1. Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner (the other one) – Rachel Blum
  2. Water in May by Ismée Williams – Mari’s Baby

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