Another high-profile film project recently began filming in Center City as production began on Audrey’s Children, a biopic about the groundbreaking work of pediatric oncologist Dr. Audrey Evans at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Evans, a native of England, is world-renowned as the “mother of neuroblastoma” for improving treatment options and survival rates for one of the most common forms of childhood cancer. Evans also co-founded the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which began in West Philly, and is credited with pioneering women in male-dominated medicine in the 1950s and 1960s.
Produced by Amasia Entertainment and Resonate Entertainment, Audrey’s Children stars Game of Thrones and Hunger Games actress Natalie Dormer as Evans, Deadline reported during pre-production in July.
Dormer will be joined in the cast by New Jersey native Jimmi Simpson and a Bloomsburg University graduate known for roles on The Newsroom and House of Cards. Simpson plays Evans’ longtime colleague and late husband, Dr. Dan D’Angio.
Clancy Brown, who starred in The Shawshank Redemption and most recently Dexter: New Blood, will become Dr. Play C. Everett Koop, former CHOP chief of pediatric surgery and later US Surgeon General. Koop recruited Evans to Philadelphia in 1969 and put her in charge of the hospital’s new pediatric cancer center, which became the starting point for a revolutionary approach to treatment that has saved millions of lives.
The screenplay for Audrey’s Children was written by Julia Fisher Farbman, who is also the film’s producer. Farbman interviewed Evans in 2016 as part of her Modern Hero series on Amazon Prime.
who is dr Audrey Evans?
Born in York, England in 1925, Evans grew up in a middle-class family and was exposed to hospitals at a young age after suffering from chronic bouts of tuberculosis. Her experiences inspired her to pursue a career in medicine, despite the pervasive sexism and discouragement that pushed women out of the field.
In the early 1950s, Evans trained at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was the only woman in her program. She initially struggled with her medical training because she had trouble memorizing, but she excelled after changing the way she studied — focusing on listening-based learning methods rather than reading volumes of texts.
After graduating, Evans received a prestigious Fulbright grant to continue her education with a residency at Boston Children’s Hospital. She studied with Dr. Sidney Farber, a pioneering pathologist and leukemia researcher known as the father of modern chemotherapy. She also spent a year at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore before returning to the Royal Infirmary Teaching Hospital in England.
In the Modern Hero interview, Evans reflects on her experience of being one of the few women — and sometimes the only woman — in her field. She says it has never stopped her from her mission of helping children.
“I wouldn’t call it difficult,” Evans says of being around men. “More amusing.”
After a stint in the University of Chicago’s Department of Hematology and Oncology in the 1960s, Evans had her big break in 1969. Koop, then chief surgeon at CHOP, wanted to create a new pediatric oncology unit that could transform the fate of cancer patients and their families, who had little hope of recovery after being diagnosed at the time.
“That’s why I came to Philadelphia, to take care of kids with cancer,” Evans, now 97 and retired, told Farbman in 2017. “Because at the time I came, there wasn’t much you could do but be yourself.” take care of.”
The Evans Staging System
Much of Evans’ work at CHOP has focused on neuroblastoma, one of the most common solid tumors in childhood cancer patients, which typically occurs before a child turns 5 years old. The rare disease affects about 700 children in the United States each year and is the result of developmental disorders in nerve tissue.
During her time at CHOP, Evans’ research led her to develop a neuroblastoma staging system to help determine which patients would respond best to different treatments. She studied how the location of tumors and their behavior could be used to determine prognosis for patients, including the option of no treatment at all if it meant sparing a child from suffering in fatal cases.
After Evans introduced her staging system to CHOP in 1971, the approach was credited with increasing survival rates in neuroblastoma patients from about 10% to 50%. She co-founded the National Wilms Tumor Study in collaboration with leading neurosurgeons and radiation therapists to advance data-driven research.
The model pioneered by Evans has been used as a basis for further advances and modifications and adapted to new research, further improving survival outcomes closer to a rate of 75-80% of patients. The Advances in Neuroblastoma Research Conference, still held biennially in the US and Europe, is another enduring part of her legacy that continues to produce advances in pediatric oncology.
A total care approach and the Ronald McDonald House
Perhaps the most significant contribution Evans has made to pediatric oncology is a broader commitment to integrative medicine. The “Total Care” approach implemented by her at CHOP emphasizes not only medical care but also the social and family needs of patients.
Often unconventional, Evans advocated bringing more play and pets into cancer care, hoping to bring ease to an otherwise scary and isolating situation for young patients.
In 1974, Evans partnered with former Philadelphia Eagles general manager Jimmy Murray to build the first Ronald McDonald House at 4032 Spruce St. The team became interested in partnering with Evans after former tight end Fred Hills’ three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.
The property accommodated seven families and was intended to solve the problem of accommodating long-distance travelers who had come to Philadelphia for cancer treatment for their children. As a fledgling organization, it received financial support by selling McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes around St. Patrick’s Day after the founders approached the fast-food restaurant about a partnership.
The Ronald McDonald House later moved to 3925 Chestnut St., an expanded facility with more rooms and better resources. The concept evolved to include summer camps and entertainment that introduced patients to younger siblings and other family members, who could take advantage of on-site amenities that eased the stresses of everyday life during treatment.
Officially established in 1984, the Ronald McDonald House Charities have since expanded to more than 360 locations in 63 countries, bringing comfort and support to millions of families worldwide. A second Philadelphia location opened in 2008 on Front and Erie streets, housing 20 families each night, and the organization has also developed a mobile medical care unit.
After serving 20 years in CHOP’s chair of oncology, Evans partially retired in 1989 and continued her work on neuroblastoma in the lab for another 20 years. She then co-founded St. James School in the Hunting Park neighborhood of North Philadelphia. The private, tuition-free Episcopal Middle School aims to address injustice through education.
Over the years, Evans has received a number of awards and recognitions, including the Distinguished Career Award from the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and the William Osler Patient Oriented Research Award from the University of Pennsylvania. She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Advances in Neuroblastoma Research Association.
The exact release date of Audrey’s Children is yet to be confirmed, but the film is set to hit theaters in 2023. The film’s plot will focus on the period following Evan’s arrival at CHOP.
“This film brings to light a woman who has dedicated her entire career saving the lives of children and supporting families who have been going through unimaginable challenges,” Dormer said in an interview with Deadline. “Audrey has done this with great heart and humility. I am honored to play her and be part of this inspiring project.”
In celebration of Evans’ 90th birthday in 2015, St. James School produced a video that sheds light on her career and includes interviews with Evans and other significant figures in her life.