In this Friday’s episode of the CBS police drama “Blue Bloods,” an officer looking for a drug supplier ends up in a coma after accidentally absorbing opioids.
In this year’s film, “A Family Man,” a workaholic headhunter re-evaluates his priorities after his son nearly dies from a risky treatment for leukemia.
The medical story lines share a Madison connection: Dr. Jonathan Kohler, a pediatric surgeon at UW Health, who works on the side as a medical adviser for Hollywood.
Through RxCreative, a company he started in 2005, Kohler and other doctors help TV and movie writers and directors incorporate medically accurate details into their stories.
Kohler, who acted in plays as a child and formed a theater group in medical school, was doing his surgical residency in Seattle in 2005 when ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” set in a Seattle hospital, became a hit.
“I was struck by how different ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ was from my day-to-day life,” he said. “I came to think of RxCreative as a bridge to the entertainment world, to help them be more accurate in their depiction of medicine.”
In addition to “Blue Bloods,” Kohler has consulted on the TV shows “Limitless,” “iZombie,” “Being Human” and “Revenge.”
For “A Family Man,” Kohler spent two weeks in Toronto in 2015, coaching actor Maxwell Jenkins on how to play a child with leukemia. Kohler also helped the actors who play the boy’s parents, Gerard Butler and Gretchen Mol, understand what the child was going through.
In addition, Kohler made sure the right kinds of tubes, ventilators, IV poles and other equipment were on the set of the boy’s hospital room as he experienced a dangerous reaction to a new treatment, called chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR, T cell therapy.
In a brief but stirring scene, Kohler played a doctor who helps resuscitate the boy after his heart stops. He’s listed in the film credits as “night doctor.”
“It’s extremely fun from a creative standpoint to be involved with television and film,” Kohler said. “It’s a very different world than medicine.”
Mark Williams, who directed “A Family Man,” said Kohler’s help in putting together an authentic portrayal of the boy’s leukemia was key to making the film believable.
“It’s important to make sure the lingo is right, the machines are right and the prognosis is right within the framework of the story we’re telling,” Williams said.
Dr. Jeannine Ruby, a fourth-year radiology resident at UW-Madison who previously was a general surgery resident, worked as a medical communications fellow for “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2014. She pitched story lines, lined up props, coached actors and appeared as an extra in some scenes.
One story she proposed, based on a patient she treated as a surgical resident, made it into episode 24 of season 10.
Her patient fell on his face, causing bleeding behind his eyeball, which made the eyeball project forward. He couldn’t move his eye and was losing vision. A surgical cut on the outside of his eyelid allowed the blood to drain, and his vision returned.
“It was so exciting to see that scene brought to life on television,” said Ruby, who spent a month this year with the medical unit at ABC News.
Olivia Rater, a first-year student at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, worked as a production assistant on “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2012-13.
Kohler’s first significant entrance into the entertainment world came in 2009, when he helped writer and producer Ian Beiderman develop a TV pilot about a cardiac surgeon with schizophrenia.
The pilot, “Maggie Hill,” was filmed but not broadcast. Beiderman, a writer for “Blue Bloods,” connected Kohler with other projects.
In the upcoming “Blue Bloods” episode, Beiderman told Kohler he wanted to explore opioid addiction. They consulted by email about the story line, in which the officer inadvertently absorbs potent drugs.
Medics give the officer the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, but she develops pneumonia requiring a medically induced coma.
Kohler said many people form opinions about medicine from entertainment, so it’s important to get it right. He named ‘Scrubs’ as the most accurate TV medical show in recent years.
“As a physician, I really want my patients to have realistic expectations on what medicine can do,” he said.