Christopher Reeve is Still Superman One Man's Heroic Triumph Over Disability
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
Also visit these related
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.
HemiMan - An aspiring athlete finds both his body and
future shattered after a near-fatal bicycle accident. Jay Enloe
chooses to wake up from a coma and face the seemingly impossible
challenge of re-activating his broken body and dreams.