The Nervous Sy
O
nMay27,1995,actor/director Christopher Reeve
of the
S uperm an
movies was injured when his
horse threw him during a competition. Reeve broke his
neck and injured his spinal cord. The accident left him
with no feeling or movement below the neck and unable
to breathe without a mechanical ventilator. Because
regeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord is rare,
doctors predicted that he might never recover.
In 2000, Christopher Reeve began therapies at
Washington University. One of the therapies, called ac-
tivity-based recovery, included electrical stimulation that
worked his disabled leg muscles to turn a stationary bi-
cycle, and water therapy that worked voluntary muscle
groups using activation by electrical stimulation. After
three years of work, he was able to lift his left index
finger. This seemingly minor act, which most unaf-
fected individuals take very much for granted, was a
major accomplishment for a quadriplegic.
From his accident until his death of heart fail-
ure in 2004, Christopher Reeve was an advocate
for the approximately 1
in 50 Americans living
with paralysis caused by stroke, trauma, mul-
tiple sclerosis, and other diseases. Christo-
pher Reeve's astonishing progress and new
research using embryonic stem cells have
provided hope for the millions afflicted
with paralysis.
190
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