ABCNEWS.com: A Chat with Christopher Reeve
Date: February 1, 2000
Reeve Discusses Super Bowl Ad and Spinal Cord Injury
On Sunday night, paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve appeared to rise from his chair and walk in an ad for the mutual fund company Nuveen Investments, aired during the Super Bowl. The ad advised viewers to "invest well" and help medical experts find a way to reverse spinal cord injuries.
Response to the ad has been decidedly mixed: Some people cheered; some squirmed; some weren't sure how to react.
Why did he agree to do it? What did he hope to achieve? Reeve discussed the ad in an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America and joined ABCNEWS.com in a live chat. Below is a transcript of the chat.
Moderator at 12:00pm ET
Welcome to ABCNEWS.com's live chat with Christopher Reeve. Christopher, thanks for agreeing to participate in this event. We have hundreds of questions and comments for you from our audience. Before we begin, please tell us why you agreed to do the ad. And what was your reaction to it?
Christopher Reeve at 12:02pm ET
I agreed to do the ad because it is a motivating vision of something that can actually happen. New breakthroughs in research are happening at an ever-increasing pace, and the leading scientists around the world all agree that it is only a question of money and time before people who have suffered from spinal cord injuries will be able to recover.
And so in order to help people visualize what the future will bring, I thought this ad would be very helpful. Rather than just imagining a spinal cord victim walking in the future, I thought it would be even more powerful to see it actually happening.
The response I got from people all over the world, both the general public and people who suffer like me from spinal cord injuries, has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I have not heard any complaints or objections in using that commercial as a way of creating even more enthusiasm for curing spinal cord injuries.
When I saw the ad, I was very impressed by the dignity of it the quality of the production and the simplicity. Something I insisted on was that I be accompanied by other people who had also recovered, and you see them coming out with me. So it's not just about Christopher Reeve, the celebrity, recovering, but casting myself as a leader of a worldwide movement. I did think the ad was very tastefully done, and I appreciate the fact that Nuveen and the ad agency consulted with me about the commercial at every step of the way.
Moderator at 12:06pm ET
Nancy K. asks: Please tell me how the company (Nuveen Investments) approached you to be in the commercial.
Christopher Reeve at 12:07pm ET
They contacted my agent at William Morris, and proposed the ad, and I was sent a storyboard of what they had in mind. And I thought the idea was very original, and not the typical commercial that you see everyday. And so, I got in touch with the chairman of Nuveen and the creative people at the ad agency, and we worked on the ad together until we were all happy with it.
Moderator at 12:07pm ET
Sandy S asks: How did Christopher Reeve's family feel about the commercial?
Christopher Reeve at 12:09pm ET
My family reacted in very much the same way as I did. We were all quite uplifted by the sight of me on my feet again, although I have to admit that the body they used is not very much like mine. It was apparently an actor who came in to the audition and said he had been my double in movies before. But actually that wasn't true. Actors will do anything to get a job! If the part calls for scuba-diving, any actor will say that they scuba-dived to get the part! So the only thing we sort of laughed at a little bit was the body that my head was put on. I don't think anybody else would have noticed, but that's not really my body type. Overall, I think the whole picture was very effective, and nobody else would notice.
Moderator at 12:10pm ET
Wendy writes: Christopher, I recently heard you speak at a seminar in Raleigh, NC and was greatly impressed with your dignity and your concern for others with injuries such as yours. Since you are so well known and apparently comfortable using your celebrity to promote fund raising for these injuries, how do you determine which fund raising agencies are legitimate? Also, do you ever feel you are being taken advantage of because you are such a willing spokesman?
Christopher Reeve at 12:13pm ET
Well, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation has a scientific advisory council, and they are the ones who receive grant applications from researchers who propose certain experiments. All these proposals are reviewed, and then recommendations are made to me and the executive committee of the foundation, and we fund projects and experiments that we think are of the highest quality.
One particular achievement that we are proud of is that in the last few years we have brought together nine of the world's best researchers, and created a consortium. These scientists share their experiments with each other and communicate regularly about their findings, which saves a lot of time because each scientist can tell the others about their discoveries, both positive and negative. In this way, the time line towards recovery will be shortened as the best brains collaborate to solve the problems.
The answer to the second part of the question is no, I don't feel I'm being taken advantage of because I only participate in events and with groups that I choose. I can't be everywhere, and so I regret having to say no to some very worthy organizations, but most of my work is done through our foundation, so we have control of how my time is spent.
Moderator at 12:15pm ET
Paul James writes: How do you handle the weight of being the singular representative of spinal cord injury victims and is this a mantle you have grown comfortable in wearing?
Christopher Reeve at 12:17pm ET
It is not something that I was chosen to do. But it would be very irresponsible of me not to accept the opportunity and the challenge of doing my very best on behalf of everyone with spinal cord injuries. And I find that because there is so much progress being made that the burden is not too heavy. If this were 1980 instead of 2000, the situation would be hopeless. But new discoveries are being made very frequently, and that makes it much easier to campaign for more funding for research, and for me to remain willing to take on this job.
Moderator at 12:18pm ET
Susan Walker asks: What kind of therapy or exercise do you do to increase your capacity to breathe on your own for increased periods of time? I understand you can now breathe up to 90 minutes a day without support. I would imagine this gives you a great sense of security and freedom.
Christopher Reeve at 12:20pm ET
Yes, I am on a rigorous breathing program which consists of two parts. I do it five days per week, resting on the weekends. And I start by taking 26 breaths in groups of four, breathing through a resistor. Every three days we intensify the resistance to build up muscle strength in the diaphragm. Then I rest for two hours, and then begin breathing off the hose. On a good day, I breathe 90 minutes and sometimes more. The idea behind it is to maintain the strength of my diaphragm so that when recovery comes, I will be strong enough to recover in voluntary breathing.
Moderator at 12:21pm ET
Becky writes: There are a number of so-called "alternative therapies" available which seem to be based on the premise that the spinal cord and central nervous system have a "memory" of sorts which can be stimulated with certain motions, stimuli or combinations of the two. Your walking harness would seem to be this type of therapy. Have you seen any benefit from it, and what is your view of therapies that don't necessarily fit the mold of "traditional" Western medicine?
Christopher Reeve at 12:24pm ET
The only therapy that I participate in which would be considered experimental is a walking therapy on a treadmill. I do this once a week, although I wish it could be more often, but at the moment there are limitations of staffing at the re-hab center where I walk.
The benefits I've noticed are these: First, it is good for the circulation. Second, it helps to prevent the loss of bone density because I'm standing for more than an hour at a time. Third, I have cardiovascular benefits because I walk for about four miles per hour, and this gets my heart-rate up to about 120. And finally, I've noticed a correlation between the walking and my increased ability to breathe on my own. This is probably because there are pathways in the spinal cord which connect in ways that do not require input from the brain, and I think when the brain and spinal cord are again able to communicate with each other that people who have stayed in good physical condition will have the best recovery.
Jeffrey Bartlett at 12:24pm ET
Mr. Reeve, what are some of the recent advancements in spinal therapy, and what new technologies do you think will help spinal therapy?
Christopher Reeve at 12:27pm ET
The very latest advance is the work done by researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Their experiments were published in the science section of The New York Times on 25 January, 2000. I would suggest you look that up, but what they are doing is taking spinal cord tissue from the patient and transplanting it to the site of the injury. In rats they've found that three months after this transplant into a wound that was 4 m.m. long which is a great distance in a rat the rats were able to walk. This is a very exciting finding because it does not involve drugs that the body might reject; instead, it's using tissue in the body so that it can heal itself.
Moderator at 12:27pm ET
Beth Sicignano writes: What recommendations can you give to the family of those with SC injuries?
Christopher Reeve at 12:30pm ET
Well, I think that the best thing to do is help the person who is injured to become as independent as possible. Maintain a good discipline, and help coach the person in physical therapy to maintain a positive outlook. It's also important that other family members get on with their own lives so they don't become resentful of having to spend too much time caring for the person who is injured. If that means hiring more outside help, believe me it's worth spending the money, because your own sanity is at stake.
But above all, remind yourself and the patient that it won't be long before human trials will begin, and within the next three to five years, I firmly believe that new therapies will come along that will make everyone with spinal cord injuries progress in some way and quite possibly, depending on the level of injury, regain their independence. So, remember that the future now is brighter than it has ever been, and don't despair even on the down days.
Bella asks: at 12:31pm ET
Mr. Reeves, first, thank you for being such an inspiration. Will you be doing any more acting or directing in the near future? Your efforts are most uplifting.
Christopher Reeve at 12:34pm ET
Thank you! I'm planning to direct a film in the spring called Heartbreaker, which is a romantic comedy for Saturn Films, a company run by Nicholas Cage. We are in the process of casting the film right now. I must say that it's been a long time since Rear Window and I am glad to be directing this project because the creative side of my life is very important to me, and I don't want it to be completely overshadowed by my responsibilities as an advocate for spinal cord injuries.
Jamie asks: at 12:34pm ET
What kind of emotions do you feel when seeing your movies that portray you in such active and athletic roles. Is there sadness, or do you just treat this as another phase of life, or both?
Christopher Reeve at 12:38pm ET
That's a very good and sensitive question. I think my reaction is mixed. I sometimes wish desperately that I could turn the clock back and be young and athletic once again. But I also am very grateful that people still enjoy many of those films. I think it's important for me not to dwell on the past. I try to live in the present and plan for the future and am grateful that I still have opportunities that are very rewarding. In fact, I think that In the Gloaming and Rear Window, both of which were made after my accident, are two films I am very proud of. So thankfully, I have not had to give up something I love so much, which is what unfortunately happens to many people who suffer a catastrophic illness or injury.
Ed asks: at 12:38pm ET
How can SCI people help you in your quest?
Christopher Reeve at 12:41pm ET
I think the most useful way that you can help is to write a letter of support or email a letter to our foundation. The best way to do that is to log on to the Internet and go to www.paralysis.org, and that will lead you to everything about our foundation.
It is very important that we hear from people all over the world who are in the same condition, so that when I testify before a Senate committee, or approach large companies for donations, they know that I'm not speaking for myself, but only as a representative of others like me around the world. So please feel free to send your support our way. Every email and every letter is read and catalogued by our staff and we are very grateful for any comments and especially any donations, no matter how small, that come our way.
Moderator at 12:42pm ET
Dee writes: Dear Chris, I'm also a quadriplegic due to an auto accident 15 years ago. Realistically, how long do you think.....before we will see "light at the end of the tunnel?"
Christopher Reeve at 12:43pm ET
The light at the end of the tunnel is visible right now, and I think that the success that the researchers have had with rats and other animal models will soon be tested in humans. In fact, right now there are human trials being conducted in several places - in St Louis, in Florida, and in a number of other locations. So my best guess is that in about four to five years, there will be therapies that are safe and available for humans, even those who have been injured for a very long time.
Moderator at 12:45pm ET
Christopher, thank you so much for your time today. Many in our audience are asking where to write/call to send a donation to your foundation.
Christopher Reeve at 12:45pm ET
The address is:
Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation
500 Morris Avenue
Springfield, NJ 07081
Moderator at 12:46pm ET
Any final words for our audience?
Christopher Reeve at 12:53pm ET
Let me just say that I'm very grateful that nearly five years after my injury people are still interested in my future as an individual, and the future of research as well. I was worried years ago when I got out of re-hab that the whole issue might be forgotten because the media moves very quickly; they take an interest in somebody or in a certain subject, and then they get bored quickly and move on. But thankfully, the media and the scientists and the public are all pulling together, and more progress has been made in the last four years than in the previous forty in terms of finding a cure for spinal cord injury paralysis.
You may have noticed that in the last two years in a row President Clinton has specifically mentioned spinal cord injuries in his State of the Union address, although he speaks of some kind of microchip, and as far as I'm aware, that's not the answer, and I can't find out who is working on that. But curing the spinal cord injury is really going to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of science because it overcomes a design of evolution. The cord was not meant to be healed because an animal with a spinal cord injury would never recover sufficiently to survive in the wild. Nature decided it would be better to let them die. But today we are on the verge of overcoming that problem, and it's a time for real optimism. I noticed that in 1995 when I said that I hoped to be able to stand on my 50th birthday in 2002, and thank everybody who had helped me, most scientists and the public sort of thought that I was the fool. We may not get there by my 50th birthday, but it now appears that it won't be far off. If it's a couple of years later, I think we can all manage until that time. The progress has been very rapid, and people are working on the problem all over the world.
Christopher Reeve at 12:58pm ET
A few years ago, spinal cord research was called the "graveyard of neuroscience," meaning that a scientist would be wasting his career looking at spinal cord injuries because there was no hope. Now, it has become one of the most exciting fields of medicine, and I'm very grateful that the cure for paralysis will also benefit people who suffer from strokes, Parkinson's, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and MS. This would have been unthinkable even five years ago, but clearly this can and will happen in the not-too-distant future. And these conditions affect a huge percentage of the world population, so I'm grateful that the search for a cure for paralysis will benefit so many other people as well.
Once again, let me say how grateful I am for the support that I and my family have gotten over the last five years. Even if I don't hear specifically from individuals, I can feel such positive energy coming from everywhere, and this makes a tremendous difference, so I just want to say thank you again and much love to all the friends and strangers out there who have done so much for us.
Moderator at 12:58pm ET
Thanks again, Christopher. And thank you to our audience for participating in this event. Unfortunately, we were only able to respond to a fraction of the questions posted. We will be sure to forward all of your heartfelt messages to Christopher Reeve.
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