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John and Aileen Crowley have been making miracles happen since two of their children, Megan and Patrick, were diagnosed with Pompe disease, a rare, fatal form of muscular dystrophy. Doctors told the Crowleys there were no treatments, so John set out to change that. He quit his job, teamed up with scientists and dedicated his life to finding a cure.
Directed by Tom Vaughan, Extraordinary Measures is an inspired-by-a-true-story film that brings together an impressive cast, including Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell. Mad Men's Jared Harris and Courtney B. Vance, one of the stars of ABC's science fiction series FlashForward, round out the all-star lineup.
Russell, an actress best known for her roles in August Rush, Waitress and the earnest TV drama Felicity, plays Aileen Crowley, a mom who juggles hospital visits, PTA meetings and birthday parties. Before shooting her scenes, Russell says she drove to the Crowleys' home in New Jersey and spent a day with the family.
"It's one of the best everyday hero stories I've ever really heard about," Russell says. "Every time I see her, she's just so funny and real and self-deprecating. ... She has a very practical sense that I think mothers inherently do—maybe women inherently do—and I think that's a major part of the glue of this family."
While visiting with the Crowleys, Russell says she watched to see how Aileen unhooked her son Patrick from his ventilators and eased him into his wheelchair. "People will see her with the kids in the wheelchairs and come up to her and say, 'Oh my god, you're such a saint, what you go through...blah blah blah,'" Russell says. "And she's like:, 'Okay. You don't have time to sit around and think about that stuff.' You're still living your life."
In 2007, Russell welcomed a child of her own, a son named River, into the world. Since then, she says motherhood has shaped her into a more empathetic actress. "I would say it definitely opens you up in a way that you're a little bit more vulnerable to experiencing things," she says. "When you hear stories, for instance this story, you're just more vulnerable to it in a way. You listen in a different way than before you became a parent."