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Year: 2020

Classification: Exempt - Ronin Recommends: PG

Runtime: 74 min

Produced In: Australia

Directed By: Andrew Pike

Produced By: Andrew Pike

Language: English

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Pumphead is a documentary feature film exploring patient experiences following major heart surgery - how to understand these experiences and how to live with them.

Through the stories of eight ex-patients, including the filmmaker himself, this documentary indicates the complex diversity of emotional and cognitive changes that often occur after open-heart surgery, simultaneous with physical recovery. In particular the film focuses on the phenomenon of "post-traumatic growth" which often co-exists with psychological challenges and is triggered by them.

All of the ex-patients in the film reveal aspects of "post-traumatic growth" - marked changes in personal values and priorities, life-style, creativity, and social and family relationships, leading to a life that in many cases is profoundly different from the time before surgery.

Through this composite story of existential crises and transformative experiences, the film also delves into the gulf that can exist between advances in medical science on one hand, and patient experiences on the other. In particular, the film raises the difficulties that the medical establishment often faces in responding to problems that are emotional, intangible and hard to quantify. As one patient contemplates in the film, the "roller-coaster ride" that some patients experience after open-heart surgery is "invisible" to other people. The film is designed to make the "invisible" more apparent and to promote awareness, empathy and understanding.

The filmmaker, Dr Andrew Pike, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who had open-heart surgery in 2011.

Producer, director, writer Andrew Pike
Editor James Lane
Cinematographer Zhenshi van der Klooster
Music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, performed by Chris Latham, Edward Neeman, David Pereira.

Produced with assistance from the ACT Screen Arts Fund through Screen Canberra and the ACT Government.
Produced with the support of Screen Australia's Producer Equity Program.
Financed with the assistance of Documentary Australia Foundation.




"This personal and absorbing documentary takes us beyond the reassuring world of biomedicine, revealing how the trauma of major heart surgery can have profound and unexpected effects on a person's thoughts and feelings. Exploring this phenomenon for the first time, the film follows the lives of several patients who have come to terms with it and, in the process, discovered new possibilities in themselves for recovery and personal growth. Although the film deals with complex medical and mental processes, it speaks to a general audience without unnecessary jargon or specialist language."

- David and Judith MacDougall, filmmakers

"This beautifully crafted investigative documentary observes and explores lesser known aspects of what happens to the psychological, emotional and social identify of people - young and not so young - who have had their chests opened and their insides adjusted. ... Anyone interested in health and how to live will benefit by gaining improved insight and understanding from this film. "

- Dr Michael Kindler, educator



Tax-deductible donations may be made via the website of the Documentary Australia Foundation:

Tax-deductible donations of any size are welcome and will help in practical ways to take the project forward.

For details about the distribution strategy for Pumphead, please contact the filmmakers at:


  • 'Postperfusion syndrome, also known as "pumphead", is a constellation of neurocognitive impairments attributed to cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) during cardiac surgery ...' - Wikipedia


If this film raises issues for you, help and support are available. Don't struggle alone. Please contact:

The Australian Centre for Heart Health's Cardiac Wellbeing Program on 03 9326 8544 or by email at

Or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.



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