States of Grace follows Dr. Grace Dammann, a pioneering HIV/AIDS physician, as she navigates life following a catastrophic motor vehicle accident that leaves her severely physically disabled. Before the accident Grace was a devoted caregiver at work and at home. She was the co-founder of one of the first HIV/AIDS clinics for socioeconomically disadvantaged patients at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital, honored for her work by the Dalai Lama with a 2005 Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award. She was also the primary breadwinner and parent in her family with partner Nancy "Fu" Schroeder and adopted daughter Sabrina, born with cerebral palsy and HIV. During a routine commute across the Golden Gate Bridge in May 2008, Grace was struck head-on by a car that veered across the divide.  She miraculously survived—her mind intact, her body devastated. She endured a prolonged coma, innumerable surgeries, and a marathon of rehabilitation. The documentary picks up Grace’s story when she is finally discharged for good. She returns home to acclimate to a radically altered life, one where she is wheelchair-bound and dependent on others for simple tasks of daily living. The film captures the rippling effects of the accident on all dimensions of Grace’s life—personal, professional, psychological, spiritual, and economic—focusing especially on how Grace’s disability turns the family dynamic on its head. Fu becomes the primary caregiver to both Grace and Sabrina, Grace becomes a care-receiver, and as Grace describes “Sabrina’s position in the family [is] radically upgraded by the accident. She is so much more able-bodied than I am.” We witness her frustrations with the limitations of her paralyzed body and see her, at one point, arguing with Fu about her right to die if she continues to be so impaired. Some of Grace’s ultimate goals (to walk again, to dance again, to surf again) remain unattainable at the film's conclusion, but she sets and exceeds new ones. Grace “comes out” as a disabled person in medicine, returning to Laguna Honda Hospital as its first wheelchair-bound physician, where she is appointed Medical Director of the Pain Clinic. She resumes the caregiver role, but with an intimate knowledge of the lived experience of pain, suffering, and disability.


Dr. Grace Dammann is a longtime friend of filmmakers Mark Lipman and Helen S. Cohen, and the intimacy of that relationship shows in the candor and compassion with which they tell Grace’s story. They bring us into the fold to bear deep witness to her experience in a way typically afforded only to an inner circle of loved ones. Grace’s resilience in the face of trauma and tragedy is awe-inspiring. But States of Grace does not cast her as a hero or wrap up her story with a bow. This is precisely why viewers will find the film refreshingly honest. It preserves the complexity of illness and disability and gives permission for loss and triumph, anger and acceptance, tragedy and humor to coexist. The family’s Buddhist practice figures prominently in the film, shaping how they process the upheaval caused by the accident and the equanimity with which they recalibrate. The film tracks the far-reaching tendrils of trauma and offers a window into what those working in health care rarely get to see: what happens when the patient goes home. States of Grace has clear applicability in medical education for teaching about caregiving, disability, doctor-as-patient, family dynamics, and rehabilitation. It would be of interest to medical students, trainees, and professionals, as well as scholars in all areas of medical humanities. 


Dr. Grace Dammann partnered with the driver who hit her to advocate for a median barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge, which was installed in 2015.  

The film’s website contains free educational resources, including discussion guides, answers to frequently asked questions written by the main characters and filmmakers, and Grace’s case history for medical audiences. For screening and purchase options, go to: and Spanish subtitles are available. 

Primary Source

New Day Films




Open Studio Productions

Running Time (in minutes)

75 minutes