Christopher Reeve is Still Superman
We were shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden passings of both Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana. This article is presented as a tribute to his dreams and courage...
By: John Shepler
In the wee hours when life for all of us lies in suspended animation, Christopher dreams. He is free once more upon the ocean. The waves lap at the side of his yacht. The fresh breeze of the sea air tickles his nostrils and whips the locks of his hair back and forth in front of his eyes. He wraps one arm around the mast to keep his balance and stares down the lighted path the moon has created upon the water. This is what it means to be fully alive.
Just a man, a sailing ship and the ocean. In the blur of this idyllic moment, time is stretched to infinity as the moon hangs suspended and the waves speed past the hull. On and on without a care, he sails. Back and forth on the deck he moves, so gracefully and effortlessly he might be drifting in space instead of slicing through the waters of the bay.
And then, relaxed and recharged, he sails back to home port, ties up his ship and returns to his bed where the slumber gradually leaves him and the weight of gravity returns. But when it returns, it is not with the expected pull that keeps us anchored to the earth yet free to move at will. For Christopher it is a crushing weight that immobilizes all but the muscles of his face. No longer do his arms and legs jet forward with the slightest impulse. He is trapped within a blanket of pressure that only others can overcome for him, as they lift his limp body into a wheelchair or move him in his bed.
This is the reality of a man with a damaged spinal cord and a mind that refuses to be imprisoned by severed nerves. Never once has Christopher Reeve dreamed of himself wheeling down the hall of a hospital in his wheelchair. Never once has he dreamed of arms that will not reach, of legs that won't run and jump at his whim. He dreams the dream of a man equipped with a healthy, vibrant body that was his before 1995. He dreams the dream of a man who runs and bikes and sails. It the dream of things that once were and the fantasies of the things that will be when he is whole again, maybe next year, maybe the one after that or sometime down the road. But soon the nightmare will end and the dream will re-materialize.
There's a twenty millimeter separation in the nerves that run up Christopher's spine and command his muscles to move as he thinks. It's a broken cable of wires, with electrical signals buzzing on one side and motors on the other that can't receive those control signals over the gap. There's less than an inch missing, but like a telephone cable that's been cut by a shovel, even a hair's width breakage means silence when there should be communication. Unlike splicing copper wires or even optical fibers, we've not developed the technology to reconnect biological wiring. We don't know how to add sections to nerves and build electrical circuits. Bones can be set to heal. Skin can be grafted. Joints can be replaced. But once severed, spinal cords were considered as shattered as broken crystal, and those unlucky victims of such injuries hopelessly immobilized. That has been the best wisdom of medicine...till now.
There are two proteins in the spinal column that prevent nerve regeneration. They've been discovered and isolated and tested to make sure that they work as suspected. Now there is an antibody that neutralizes these proteins and may do what has been unthinkable...start the healing process. While the sailor dreams at night of mounting the deck and casting off in the moonlight, the nerves in his neck may be growing longer and moving toward those links to his brain. Some night when he reaches out toward the moon and feels like he could simply leap out and touch it, those nerve cells will jump the gap. The signals will stream back and forth again and he will reach up, not just in fantasy but in the physical reality of a man re-enabled.
When could this possibly happen? Soon. Christopher Reeve has been told he's is a prime candidate for the exciting new treatments on the horizon, because of the short gap in his spinal cord. He is now regained some feeling and can activate some movement in his muscles...a feat he attributes to his intense physical therapy every day since the accident.
Will he walk again? Absolutely. There is no doubt in his mind. He's already walked on a treadmill with the help of a sling and a therapist to keep his feet one in front of the other. He is amazingly able to walk when suspened weightless, like the astronauts, in a pool of water. "The spinal cord has memory," he says. "It still knows how to walk."
In just a handful of years, the hopeless situation has become hopeful almost to the point of being able to touch it now. In 1995, awaking for the first time immobilized in a hospital bed and unable to breathe without a machine pumping his lungs, Christopher Reeve looked into the eyes of his wife, Dana, and mouthed "Maybe we should let me go." In that critical moment, with the choice of life or death in the balance, she unhesitatingly responded "You're still you and I love you."
Just a few years later, Christopher latched onto those words that he said literally saved his life and written a biography, "Still Me." It is the saga of this nightmare that began with one horse accidentally flipping him to the ground and another, the helicopter named for the winged horse Pegasus, whisking him to surgery that saved his life and suspended time. In suspended time, Christopher and Dana have not only survived, but found purpose in fighting for life before a world audience that wants desperately for him to succeed. When he does, and the myth of Superman becomes reality, time will begin again for Christopher Reeve and the millions of others with spinal cord injuries for whom hope was almost abandoned. Please do support the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation in its critically important work for humanity...because truly nothing is impossible!
Books of Interest:
Still Me by Christopher Reeve. Christopher Reeve tells the story of his life--his whole life. He talks about the dazzling years as a theater actor and movie star--from "Superman" to "Remains of the Day"; he tells about his struggle to find enduring love; and, of course, we hear about his accident; what really happened, who was to blame, and his continuing battle to rebuild his life after the disaster. A deeply moving and inspiring memoir, gripping as well as funny, this is a testament to the human spirit, and the closest most of us will come to the fascinating and heroic Christopher Reeve.
Nothing is Impossible, Reflections on a New Life by Christopher Reeve. The author of the bestselling "Still Me" now challenges readers not to accept limitations--those set by oneself or by others--but to harness the untapped resources within themselves that are waiting to be discovered. "Nothing Is Impossible" reminds that life is not to be taken for granted but to be lived fully with zeal, curiosity, and gratitude.
Care Packages; Letters to Christopher Reeve from Strangers and Other Friends by Dana Reeve. Christopher Reeve's wife has collected many of the letters sent to Chris since his accident in this funny, touching and heartwarming book.
Christopher Reeve by Margaret L. Finn. A biography of the actor who found fame playing Superman in the movies and took on a new role as activist after becoming a quadriplegic.
Christopher Reeve by Megan Howard. A biography of the actor who became well known for his movie portrayal of Superman and for his activities in support of nerve damage research since the riding accident that left him a quadriplegic.
Christopher Reeve by Walter G. Oleksy
Christopher Reeve, Hollywood's Man of Courage by Laura Lee Wren
Also visit Books-A-Million for an excellent selection of new books, magazines, e-books, audio books and more at low, low prices.
Also visit these related sites:
Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation - This official foundation supports research into spinal cord paralysis and makes grants to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
The Life of Christopher Reeve - A short bio and many links related to Christopher Reeve.
Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Resources - a very extensive set of links from Facing Disability.
(c) 1998 - 2018 by John E. Shepler. Contact me at: John (at) JohnShepler.com
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First Published: May 10, 1998 as part of A Positive Light