About the Film
At the beginning of the film, Lorenzo is portrayed as a bright and vibrant young boy but when his parents relocate to the United States he begins to show neurological problems, loss of hearing, tantrums, etc. The boy is diagnosed as having ALD which is fatal within two years. Failing to find a doctor capable of treating their son’s rare disease, Augusto and Michaela Odone (played by Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon) set out on a mission to find a treatment to save their child.
In their quest, the Odones clashed with doctors, scientists, and support groups, who were skeptical that anything could be done about adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), much less by laypeople. But they persisted, setting up camp in medical libraries, reviewing animal experiments, enlisting the aid of Professor Gus Nikolais (played by Peter Ustinov), badgering researchers, questioning top doctors all over the world, and even organizing an international symposium about the disease.
Despite research dead ends, the horror of watching their son’s health decline, and being surrounded by skeptics (including the coordinators of the support group they attended), they persisted until they finally hit upon a therapy involving adding a certain kind of oil (actually containing two specific long chain fatty acids, isolated from rapeseed [canola] oil and olive oil) to their son’s diet. They contacted over 100 firms around the world until they found an elderly British chemist (Don Suddaby, who played himself in a cameo role) working for Croda International who was willing to take on the challenge of distilling the proper formula. The oil, erucic acid, proved successful in normalizing the accumulation of the very long chain fatty acids in the brain that had been causing their son’s steady decline, thereby halting the progression of the disease. There was still a great deal of neurological damage remaining which could not be reversed unless new treatments could be found to regenerate the myelin sheath (a lipid insulator) around the nerves.
In 1989, Augusto forms The Myelin Project taking on the new challenge of organizing biomedical efforts to heal myelin damage in patients. The film ends with Lorenzo at the age of 14 showing definite improvement (he could swallow for himself and answer yes or no questions by blinking) but indicating more medical research is still needed. The end credits of the film note that Lorenzo also regained his sight and was learning to use a computer.
*We offer a complimentary Lorenzo’s Oil Teachers Packet to teachers in the USA. For more information, click here.