Some real-life stories have all the makings for the silver screen: a juicy conflict, a likeable underdog, and of course, a little romance. Such is the case with the story of Sally Pacholok.
A graduate from Wayne State’s nursing program and longtime ER nurse in southeast Michigan, Pacholok has spent the past 15 years raising awareness for the dangers of vitamin B12 deficiency — a disorder that can lead to dementia, fall-related trauma, and, in some cases, premature death in older adults. In children, the disorder can cause developmental disabilities or autistic-like symptoms.
Though the effects of B12 deficiency have been understood since the 1930s, routine screenings and proper education surrounding it have largely disappeared from the medical community, Pacholok says, which is something she noticed when she began researching the disorder in the ’80s.
“While I was in nursing school, I had symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency,” Pacholok says. “I had enlarged red blood cells, which is one sign [of a deficiency]. Long story short, I diagnosed myself.”
This was in 1987, when Pacholok was just beginning her nursing career. In the late ’90s, Pacholok pushed the hospital administration to screen for B12 deficiency in symptomatic and at-risk patients, but was met with strong resistance.
“They didn’t want to hear about it,” Pacholok says. “They kind of tried to shut me down and actually gave me a gag order stating that I couldn’t talk about B12 to patients, to family, and to stop soliciting physicians from testing patients or I would be terminated.”
Fast forward to 2009. Pacholok’s story found its way to director/producer Elissa Leonard, who produced a documentary based on Pacholok’s book Could It Be B12?: An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses.
Fast forward again to 2014, and Leonard completed a second film — an Erin Brockovich-style whistleblower/romance based on Pacholok’s struggles to raise awareness for B12 deficiency at her hospital, all while falling in love with her husband, an ER physician she met at the same hospital when he was an intern.
The film, titled Sally Pacholok, won Best Feature at the D.C. Independent Film Festival in February, and as it continues to make the festival rounds, Pacholok is confident the film’s message will make a crucial impact in her advocacy.
“It’s a very ignored, misunderstood, and costly epidemic,” Pacholok says. “But the ball is now rolling and the film is going to finally end, I feel, patients being injured from B12 deficiency.”