Crusading to Conquer Disabilities Reeve Making Big Push for Paralysis Research

By McAlister, Nancy | The Florida Times Union, October 8, 1996 | Go to article overview

Crusading to Conquer Disabilities Reeve Making Big Push for Paralysis Research


McAlister, Nancy, The Florida Times Union


He's still called Superman by some, although it is his will

more than his physique that is now made of steel.

On screen, Christopher Reeve is best known as the comic book

hero who crushes evildoers in Metropolis. It was a part he

didn't want to play, he has admitted, since he feared it was too

frivolous. It turned out the Superman films led to more serious

work, on-screen and off.

Today, Reeve is again attracting attention for a role he most

certainly didn't choose for himself: Real-life hero. It was

thrust upon him by a Memorial Day accident a year ago when his

horse suddenly stopped during a jumping competition. Reeve's

fall from his mount onto his head injured his spinal cord

between the first and second vertebrae, paralyzing him from the

neck down.

Confined to a wheelchair and breathing through a tracheostomy

tube attached to a ventilator box, the 43-year-old Reeve has

joined the ranks of disabled persons. But he sees it as a

limited engagement. As he told Barbara Walters in his first TV

interview in September 1995, with the help of scientific

research he hopes by his 50th birthday to be able to stand and

toast all who helped him.

A Time magazine profile in August chronicled the intense

regimen he follows to get his body in shape for such an event.

To call him determined is understatement.

In a phone conversation from his home in Williamstown, Mass.,

Reeve said that wish for seven years from now seems to be a

realistic goal -- if, of course, money comes through from both

the public and private sectors.

"Too often in the past, researchers have been working alone and

sometimes duplicating experiments that have been done in other

laboratories," he said. "The only way the problem can be solved

is by a coordinated effort among them."

By lobbying Congress, the White House and the scientific

community, Reeve has worked hard to bring attention to the

250,000 paralyzed people in the U.S. and, specifically, those

with spinal cord injuries. In addition to trying to bar

insurance companies from setting lifetime caps on compensation,

he has pushed for more studies to find cures or, at least,

improve quality of life. Aided in the process would be related

diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's and

multiple sclerosis, he said.

So far, his efforts have led to money for a research facility

at the University of California at Irvine and a prize to the

neuroscientist who makes the greatest strides in a given year.

At this summer's Democratic National Convention, he made an

appeal for support, calling up the memory of President Kennedy's

promise to put a man on the moon as an example of making the

impossible a reality.

Recent breakthroughs have occurred in spinal cord research,

Reeve said. And for both humanitarian and economic reasons,

further study is absolutely essential.

"Most important, they have discovered the spinal cord can

regenerate. As recently as four years ago they didn't think that

was possible. They now have an operation that can cure certain

cases of Parkinson's and they're experimenting with new drug

therapy that would cure Alzheimer's disease. All of which is

going to reduce the burden on Medicare and Medicaid."

It is his pro-active response to his accident and life-changing

limitations that led to Reeve's role as narrator of Without

Pity: A Film About Abilities. The HBO documentary makes its

debut at 10:30 tonight, followed by six more telecasts this

month. …

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