Sunday, September 15, 2002

Christopher Reeve

The most genuine Superman

        Superman's powers were a gift. He didn't have to do crunches to get abs of steel or pump iron to build biceps. He could leap tall buildings in a single bound, but we never saw him on a treadmill.

        Three times a week, for an hour at a time, Christopher Reeve sat on an exercycle while his muscles were stimulated electrically, forcing his legs t o pump. He was hoisted into a pool once a week for aquatherapy. He blew little sips of air into a straw to move his wheelchair.

        Now, his doctors report that he can move on his own. Just a little. And he can feel again. He can feel heat and cold. He can feel enough pressure to know when he should shift his weight in his wheelchair to avoid sores. He can feel human touch, hugs from his wife and kids, after years of sensory isolation.

Worst-case scenario

        It has been seven years since he was thrown by a horse, breaking his neck and damaging his spinal cord.

        “His was the worst-case scenario,” says Dr. John W. McDonald, who oversaw his treatment. “Nobody in the world could have predicted his recovery.”

        And now the man of flesh and blood can do something that the man of steel could never do: He can give other mortals hope for their future. If he can confound doctors, fly in the face of conventional wisdom, maybe they can, too.

        And if they don't, he has provided another exceptional example. “The fact is that even if your body doesn't work the way it used to, the heart, the mind and the spirit are not diminished,” Mr. Reeve told People magazine.

        He has been quoted as promising he would walk by his 50th birthday, which is Sept. 25. “What I actually said,” he told USA Today, “was I hoped to toast everyone who's helped me along the way.”

        Among them certainly would be his wife, Dana, who appears to be on the super side herself. In 1995, fully conscious for the first time after his accident, paralyzed from high on his neck on down, a mac hine pumping air into his lungs, he mouthed the words, “Maybe we should let me go.”

        She responded, “You're still you, and I love you.”

Caped hero

        That's something the doctors can't provide. And Christopher Reeve's “party trick,” as he calls it, is another. He can lift his left index finger. More than that first twitch two years ago, it's a movement he can control.

        That little move must look very big to the thousands of people watching from wheelchairs. In the water, he can make flying motions with his arms.

        Dr. McDonald says this “really changes the playing field in terms of what's possible” for victims of spinal injuries.

        Most of us got to know Christopher Reeve when he portrayed Superman in the movie. He looked eerily like Clark Kent. And he was entirely believable in a cape.

        “Christopher Reeve is Superman,” intoned a voice-over in one of the 1978 advertisements.

        He's better than Superman, really. Superman looked very buff in his blue suit, but he never made anybody believe they could fly.

        E-mail Laura at or phone 768-8393.



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