A lot of blogs do a little segment called Thank You Thursday so I thought I’d try it out, especially as today is a particularly poignant anniversary for me.
On May 27, 1995, Christopher Reeve was paralyzed as the result of a riding accident and he became a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic. Reeve used his money and fame to start the Reeve Foundation, which is dedicated to “curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research, and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy.” I don’t know a lot about Christopher Reeve, except that he played Superman and that after his accident, he became the face of spinal cord injury. He showed the world that even if you were a quadriplegic, you still had a brain, you still had a heart, you were still a person and you could still change the world. From what I can tell, his foundation blew the field of spinal cord research wide open and was one of the most vocal proponents of stem cell research (along with Michael J. Fox) during the Bush years.
If Christopher Reeve hadn’t been injured, I am not sure I would be here today. When I became a quadriplegic, my doctors loaded me up with steroids for months. Eventually, the lesions and swelling on my brain stem came down and with the help of the best therapists ever and an unbelievably huge amount of work, I started to get almost all of my mobility back. I don’t know if those therapies were available before the Reeve Foundation started funding research, but I do know Christopher Reeve created an atmosphere of hope for people with spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
I was given the steroid regimen because even though my case looked dismal and there was almost no chance I would regain any mobility whatsoever, it was worth a shot. I was sent to the best spinal cord rehabilitation unit in the state, and possibly the Midwest, because my doctors and insurance company understood how crucial the best physical and occupational therapy was rather than send me to a “long-term care facility”, otherwise known as a nursing home. Even if I had never moved a muscle again, these were the people would try to coax any life out of my damaged nervous system and teach me how to live as a person with a disability. My therapists never gave up on me and I did regain most of my mobility and begin to learn how to care for myself again.
The likelihood is that had I been sent to this particular spinal cord rehabilitation unit (at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, WI), I would have had this experience no matter what. However, had there not been Christopher Reeve and the Reeve Foundation, I am not sure I would have received the same drug regimens at the first hospital or even been sent to Froedtert for specialized spinal cord rehabilitation. Without Christopher Reeve or the Reeve Foundation proving that people living with quadriplegia can still live full and productive lives, I’m not sure anyone would have had any hope for me at all.