Christopher Reeve: One Finger at a Time
By Colin Allen -- Publication Date: Mar/Apr 2003
Summary: After Christopher Reeve was thrown from a horse in 1995, his subsequent paralysis made him question whether life was worth living. Now a real superman shares his tale of personal triumph.
I can imagine what life would have been like had I not been injured, but we've been able to build a life that is so very rich. My wife has been extraordinary. She never pulled back. The commitment we made to each other withstood this devastating development. Right after the injury she said, "You're still you, and I love you." She never wavered. I'm lucky. I wasn't prepared for such unconditional love. The accident did change how we live. We redid the house with accessibility in mind--I move around in a van.
When I was injured, my youngest son was a few days shy of his third birthday. My daughter, Alexandra, was only 11, and Matthew, 15. It was a very difficult time for Matthew and Alexandra. Just as they were going through adolescence, they had a parent suffer a catastrophic injury. It was probably easier for Will, who has known me in a wheelchair pretty much all his life. All three kids have done well. None of them went into a downward spiral, becoming withdrawn or incommunicative or unable to function. In fact, they excelled.
After the injury, the first decision I had to make was to not quit. It's not easy to do. I noticed when I was in rehab that a fellow patient who had good family support and loving relationships did better than another fellow patient whose personal life was more chaotic and troubled. So, it seems that whatever you have before will be accentuated. If it's good, it may stay that way and become even stronger, but if it's weak, it may fall apart. I try to live a life that's honest and filled with loving relationships, just for my own happiness, anyway.
It's pretty irrefutable that you can help yourself. Somehow exercise can reawaken dormant pathways in the nervous system and cause small amounts of regeneration. Otherwise, there's no way to explain why, all of a sudden, five years after the injury, I was able to move my left index finger. And from there I've gone on to move my legs and my arms, and I've even recovered the use of my diaphragm. So, I just don't believe in ultimatums.
The sky is the limit. I'm not going to put a time line on it. I did have a time line before: walking by age 50. I remember telling some researchers I met: "Don't give me all the reasons why recovery won't happen. Let me be the fool on the hill who says, 'Why can't we do this?'"
You don't want to give anyone false hope, though. If it's a terminal case, it may be appropriate to prepare the family by saying the patient won't live more than six months. But doctors should be very judicious when they make these sorts of statements. There are a lot of people who prove them wrong.
I never get caught doing nothing. There is always something you can do. You don't need a lot of money, a huge staff or special facilities. Yes, it helps. But there's a tremendous amount you can do just with your family--they can learn how to help you, they can become your physical therapists. You have to take action and stand up for yourself--even if you're sitting in a wheelchair.