Is Fox’s New Show “Red Band Society” Realistic?

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The new Fox primetime show Red Band Society, which premiered last Wednesday and aired the second episode last night, might have raised a lot of questions for people who are unfamiliar with life inside a pediatric unit.

One of the first scenes showed two teens—Leo has cancer and Dash has cystic fibrosis—smoking marijuana together in a closet. That is, until the head nurse bursts in and sends them off to school.

If you’re thinking, “There’s no way that actually happens in real life,” you’re absolutely right. Much of what happened on the show’s pilot episode is simply unrealistic.

On the other hand, a few issues addressed on the show do hit closer to home—including the shocking discovery that one of the main characters needs a heart transplant.

Here are 4 things that happened on the first episode of Red Band Society, and how these scenes compare to what might play out in a real pediatric unit.

Pediatric Patients’ Freedom

Scene: The teen patients come and go as they please, leaving not only the unit, but the hospital grounds as well, without anyone seeming to notice.

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How much freedom to move around a young patient has depends a lot on their condition. Age plays a role, too.

Here at Children’s, kiddos who are old enough and are able to move around on their own can eat in the cafeteria or visit our Atrium – a wide open space with huge windows and a great water feature that often serves as a wishing well. They may have to wear a mask for their own protection, if their immune system is knocked down; they’re nearly always escorted by a family member, a nurse or a child life specialist, and they definitely need to check in with the nurses before they head anywhere. (Physician orders are required in order to leave the floor.) This is especially important if they’re on IV medications, because they can run low while they’re out and about.

Parental Consent

Scene: Jordi arrives alone at the hospital, medical records in hand. He’s a teenager and his parents aren’t with him. He asks a surgeon to operate on his leg. It takes some persuading, but the doctor eventually agrees.

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No doctor in his right mind would agree to operate on a minor without a parent or guardian’s consent unless it was a life threatening medical emergency. And even then, hospital staff would be working to find the child’s parents while the surgery was underway.

But the character in question is not facing a medical emergency. He simply explains that his relationship with his parents is complicated and the doctor doesn’t ask any further questions.

So in this case, Red Band Society is not a reflection of reality.

Discovering You Need a Heart Transplant

Scene: Kara, one of those mean-girl types, passes out during cheerleading practice. While waiting for her parents to come pick her up from the hospital, she passes out again. Doctors discover that she has an enlarged heart and will eventually need a transplant.

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This actually could happen in real life. For instance, kiddos with dilated cardiomyopathy can be at risk for ventricular arrhythmia, which can lead to sudden fainting.

Also read → Cardiomyopathy: How to Explain Your Child’s Heart Condition

That’s why sports physicals are so important for student athletes. They can help ensure that young people are in good health to perform high intensity activities.

As for the how realistic it is for doctors to diagnose the need for a heart transplant within a few hours of the first fainting spell—not likely, there are a lot of factors that play into that decision.

Usually medical therapy—medication or surgical implantation of a defibrillator—is the first line of treatment.

There’s also the fact that not everyone who has cardiomyopathy goes on to have a transplant.

Waiting List Priority Levels

Scene: After finding out she needs a heart transplant, the doctor tells Kara’s parents that she will be placed at the bottom of the waiting list. She tested positive for cocaine, meth and some other drugs. She also has a beer while in the hospital.

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In reality, placement on the waiting list is based on medical necessity.

Now, some heart transplant programs might not put a person on the waiting list right away due to substance use, often times a drug-free period must be observed.

Also read → The Compliance Question In Heart Transplants For Children

Once you’re on the list, your past indiscretions are just that: in the past. (And, no surprise, no alcohol allowed in the hospital!)

So, while Red Band Society got some things right as far as life in a pediatric unit, there are other things that the show just got plain wrong.

Overall, the show may be a positive force by showing young people that being admitted to a hospital for long-term care is not necessarily a doom-and-gloom situation, as one Facebook community member pointed out when I asked for opinions on the show.

On the other hand, it’s important to keep in mind that it is TV. The goal is to get good ratings, not necessarily reflect reality.

If you have any thoughts on the show, share them here in the comments.

Barb Roessner

Hi, I'm Barb, and I'm a Physician Assistant and coordinator of the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. I work with patients and families at every step of the journey, from diagnosing their child's heart condition to my favorite part—calling them to say "We have a heart."

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