documentary synopsis.

A SPARK OF NERVE is a story of personal triumph and medical innovation. Loren was fifteen when a prisoner mistakenly released from San Quentin followed her into a San Francisco bakery and brutally stabbed her five times, severing the nerves in her neck. Neurosurgeons said her arm would never move again. Michael, an Illinois attorney, was facing a similar, dead-end diagnosis after a freak chain saw accident paralyzed his arm. Eighteen-year-old Chelsey survived a horrific late night car accident in St. Louis, which left her arm useless as well. None of these patients were willing to accept paralysis or worse, possible amputation. Unfortunately they also didn’t know they were in a race against time or the paralysis would be permanent. Each desperately went searching for a cure and found hope with Dr. Susan Mackinnon and her pioneering work in nerve transfer surgery, which is restoring movement to limbs that many doctors believe to be permanently paralyzed. The film follows the charismatic Mackinnon and several of her patients for three years as their emotional stories unfold - from trauma and disappointment to hope and finally joy as the freedom of movement is slowly regained. Mackinnon is committed to sharing her groundbreaking surgical “recipes” and is creating a military funded teaching website for all surgeons anywhere in the world. With rare access, we visit the Walter Reed Peripheral Nerve Clinic in Maryland to see how nerve transfers are being used to help wounded soldiers returning from the Middle East conflicts.

A SPARK OF NERVE will inspire the millions with nerve injuries to not lose hope and to seek out these little known but life-changing surgeries.



stab wounds


chainsaw accident


car accident

Dr. Mackinnon
Dr. Mackinnon

nerve surgeon


car accident


gunshot wound - combat


quadriplegic - car accident

Dr. Mackinnon
Dr. Mackinnon

at home

filmmakers statement.

We vividly remember the moment our phone rang and we got the chilling and incomprehensible news: our 15-year-old daughter, Loren, had been brutally stabbed in a neighborhood bakery. As parents of a girl who suddenly had a paralyzed arm as a result of a traumatic injury, we found ourselves at a medical dead end. After many failed attempts to find a cure, it was only by coincidence that we found help to save our daughter’s arm with Dr. Susan Mackinnon. We were lucky. What if we hadn’t stumbled upon that solution or found it in time? We began asking ourselves, “How many other people with these same injuries don’t know where to look for treatment or that they need it quickly? Why is it so hard to find this information?” That’s when we decided to help get the word out about these little known, but life-changing nerve transfer surgeries. Even if this information saves only one arm or leg, it will be worth it!



Linda Schaller


Linda Schaller is a San Francisco Producer-Director who tells character driven stories that are visual, dramatic and inspiring. A four-time Emmy winner, Linda focuses her documentaries on the arts, history and now medical science with “A Spark of Nerve” - her first independently produced and directed feature length documentary. As Producer-Director of “And Then One Night: the Making of Dead Man Walking” (PBS), Schaller juxtaposed the making of the new opera with the real life death penalty debate. It received a National Emmy nomination and a Northern California Emmy.
The performance documentary “Kicking the Notes the Toradze Way” (PBS), won two Chicago Emmys and honors at the Golden Prague Festival. “Nijinska: A Legend in Dance” (PBS), with host Mikhail Baryshnikov, won the prestigious Grand Prix Video Dance International Documentary Award in Paris. Linda was additionally honored to create short historical documentaries for the PBS “Great Performances: The Nutcracker” as well as for San Francisco Opera, Beach Blanket Babylon and American Ballet Theater gala events.

Tim Schaller


Tim Schaller brings to all his projects a complimentary set of talents: cinematographer, editor, 3D animator and colorist. His camera work benefits from being an editor and the animation benefits from his real world lighting and shooting experience. Tim’s work has been seen on A&E, Discovery, CBS, ABC, PBS and throughout the tech world. For the performance documentary, Kicking the Notes the Toradze Way (PBS), he won a Chicago Regional Emmy Award for editing. The documentary, Ireland: The Celtic Way selected Schaller to shoot, edit and animate in stereoscopic - winning Best Documentary in the Los Angeles 3D Film Festival. To create their Lulu Interlude film, the San Francisco Opera chose Tim for set & virtual set design as well as effects directing, editing, animation and compositing. The three minute 35mm projection was a multimedia part of the opera performance. This blending of the real and the virtual worlds inspired the name of his company, Fogline Features.


Fred Story

Music/Audio Mix

Fred Story has been composing for film, television and other media for over 25 years. During that time his work has been heard on most major networks and national cable outlets, including PBS American Masters (“Margaret Mitchell:American Rebel”), ABC (“Pope John Paul II – A Light For The Nations”), CBS, NBC, Discovery, A&E, HGTV, Food Network, History Channel and more. Fred’s music for various public television outlets has earned him eleven regional Emmy Awards (out of sixteen nominations). He is also winner of three Telly Awards, a prestigious New York Festivals Award and has scored numerous independent theatrical feature films and documentaries. His approach to film and TV composing can be summed up in the advice given to him by his musical mentor Ziggy Hurwitz, with whom he studied for seven years. “It’s simple”, Ziggy offered. “Shut up and listen. A great story will tell you what it needs.” Fred is a member of ATAS, NATAS and ASCAP.


Dr. Mackinnon's teaching website

nervesurgery.wustl.edu      home page

As explained in the documentary, Dr. Mackinnon has developed a nerve surgery teaching and information website, with free access to anyone. This website is intended for multiple uses, from training doctors to educating patients and their families.

United Brachial Plexus Network


The United Brachial Plexus Network strives to inform, support, and unite families and those concerned with brachial plexus injuries and their prevention worldwide.

restoring hand function for spinal cord injury


Nerve Transfer to Restore Hand Function for C6/7 Spinal Cord Injury

spinal cord injury zone

Q&A: Nerve Transfer Surgery

nerve surgery - johns hopkins

hopkinsmedicine.org   •  Johns Hopkins Peripheral Nerve Surgery Center

The Peripheral Nerve Surgery Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine treats a wide range of nerve injuries, above link lists these.

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