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'A Simple Act' chronicles an uplifting story

Posted by Matt Byrne  June 22, 2011 10:04 AM

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Greg Shea

Rudy Favard, 18, of Malden, lifts Sammy Parker, who is severely disabled, into bed. The family are subject of a PBS documentary.

In a unflinching tone that borders on soothing, Patty Parker describes the moment that doctors told her there was something wrong with one of her newborn sons.

The twin boys, Sammy and Ben, were a miracle of sorts for the Melrose couple, who struggled with infertility for six years after they married in 1993. Following the births, doctors decided to keep Sammy for observation, a precautionary step, the family was told.

"So we went home," Parker said. "And they called us a couple of days later, and said 'You need to come in, he's seizing, and we're not sure why and we don't know what's going on.' And that was the beginning of our journey."

The interview comes early in WBGH's "A Simple Act," a 27-minute documentary about the family, Sammy, and how their lives were changed by Malden teen Rudy Favard, captain of the football team at Malden Catholic, who graduated last month and is bound for Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., in the fall.

Directed and produced by Greg Shea, who is also a producer at PBS, the film was inspired by a December 2010 Globe column by Yvonne Abraham that gained nationwide attention. Between interviews with Rick and Patty, and footage from the couple's home, Shea captures life with Sammy, who has cerebral palsy and is paraplegic, blind, and unable to speak or swallow.

Shea, of North Andover, said he was in search of a short film project when he read the December Globe story and was moved to contact Abraham. A few weeks and several e-mails later, he was introduced to the family, and filming began this winter.

Following the growth of the two boys through childhood, the parents, speaking to Shea, reveal the stoic and heart-rending moments that raising a disabled child can bring.

"Like any pregnant woman you just have the fantasy of the perfect life," Patty said in the film. "They were just going to be two happy little boys, and they were going to best of friends and each other's playmates."

The couple adapted to their son's needs, which transform the simplest interactions into labors of love. Most important, however, was the nightly task of carrying Sammy, now 8, up the 14 winding stairs to his second-floor bedroom.

But the delicate balance of life for the Parker family was upended when Rick Parker underwent emergency heart surgery last year. Doctors prohibited him from lifting much of anything, let alone carrying his son up the staircase every night.

Enter Favard, the middle linebacker and captain of the Malden Catholic football team last season, who four nights a week drove from his home in Malden to gently lift Sammy up the 14 stairs into his bed.

Through interviews, family photographs, and home movies, the pain, love, and isolation the Parkers experience reels to life – in the steeled tone of a mother’s voice, or the pain etched in the face of a father who must face that he would never play catch with one of his sons.

"Patty said to me, people in the neighborhood didn't know they had kids because they were inside so much," said Shea in a phone interview. "She didn't cry once. She's sort of like a soldier, and Rick so clearly wears his emotions on his sleeve."

Now the parents are searching for a new home without stairs, and Shea says he hopes his documentary will draw the type of kindness that led Rudy to the Parker family in the first place.

He’s also set up a website,, for the couple in hopes that the spirit will catch on.

"I'm a father of twins myself." he said. "I really felt like making a film would be a way to help this family."

"A Simple Act" will air Sunday, June 26 at 1:30 p.m. on Channel 2. Click here to watch the trailer.

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