December 1998 Bulletin

11-year-old patient stars in movie 'Simon Birch'

Eleven-year-old Ian Smith, left, is interviewed by Jerry Taft of ABC-TV, Chicago, during the Children's Miracle Network's Champions Weekend to benefit Children's Memorial Hospital.

By Cynthia Oertel

It's not often that an 11-year-old patient tells you he spent his summer vacation staring in a major motion picture. But, Academy member John F. Sarwark, MD, recalls that his patient, Ian Smith, did just that.

"When Ian and his mother came in for a check-up, I asked what the family had done during the summer," Dr. Sarwark explained. "Imagine how surprised I was when she told me that Ian had spent it in Canada playing the lead character in the feature film Simon Birch."

Diagnosed at age three with Morquio Syndrome, Ian has had two spinal surgeries and two operations on his legs to correct misalignment. Dr. Sarwark performed one of Ian's last surgeries-an osteotomy.

Although he already has reached his full height of 3 1/2 feet, Ian continues to grow in the eyes of Dr. Sarwark. "Making the film has been such a positive experience for Ian and his family," Dr. Sarwark said.

"Simon Birch" is the movie adaptation of John Irving's novel "A Prayer of Owne Meany." In the film, Ian plays the lead character, Simon Birch, a young boy growing up in a small town in Maine, dealing with some serious family issues.

Finding the perfect person to fill the role of Simon proved to be difficult for the film's producers until they saw Ian. The producers had placed an advertisement in newspapers across the U.S. looking for the "littlest person ever seen …."

According to Dr. Sarwark, Ian has used his newfound fame to place a spotlight on dwarfs. "He wants to show people that dwarfs are not different, but just like everyone else," he said. "When Ian was promoting the film and appearing on television talk shows, he used his time to discuss his condition."

In September, Ian and his family showed their appreciation to Dr. Sarwark by inviting him to the movie's Chicago premiere. Ian's family also asked Dr. Sarwark to participate in an interview for the entertainment television show "Access Hollywood" about Ian's performance in the film as well as provide details about his condition. "It was such a happy time for Ian and his family, and to have them ask me to say a few words on television, it was a huge honor," Dr. Sarwark said.

Ian still needs to visit Dr. Sarwark every six months for regular physical examinations. "I am preparing myself for his next visit," he said. "Maybe he will tell me about his next movie role."


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