Paralyzed Christopher Reeve makes slight gains
ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- Actor Christopher Reeve -- paralyzed since 1995 -- is experiencing slight movement in his fingers and toes, his doctor told CNN on Tuesday.
"To be able to feel just the lightest touch," he said, "is really a gift."
He can feel hugs from his wife and children, he told People magazine in the issue that will be available on newsstands Friday.
Dr. John McDonald, a leader in the field of spinal cord regeneration, said he couldn't predict whether his patient will walk again, but told People: "The fact that he's having some recovery could make that a possibility."
"The belief is that most recovery occurs in the first six months, and that if it's not complete in two years, it's pretty much over. ... And typically, you know, someone [who] doesn't have any recovery early, won't have any recovery late," McDonald said. Reeve's improvement "really changes the playing field in terms of what's possible."
Reeve, who will turn 50 on September 25 and is best known for playing Superman in the 1978 movie and sequels, was paralyzed from the neck down in a 1995 riding accident. Reeve fell from a horse during an equestrian event, and broke two bones in his neck.
He once vowed to walk before his 50th birthday.
"The fact is that even if you body doesn't work the way it used to, the heart, the mind and the spirit are not diminished," Reeve told People. "It's as simple as that."
Spokesman Wes Combs told CNN that the actor has some movement in his left fingers, right hand and left toes. In addition, Reeve previously was on a ventilator nearly constantly, but can now stay off the machine for 90 minutes at a time.
Based on his research, McDonald said a case never has been documented where someone has that degree of recovery from a spinal cord injury after nearly seven years.
McDonald is assistant professor of Neurology and Neurological Surgery at Washington School of Medicine and director of the Spinal Cord Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis.
Reeve, who has undergone intensive physical therapy since his accident, spends about $500,000 a year on his treatment, he told Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent. But McDonald said it will take awhile before it's determined whether his therapy alone is responsible for the improvement.
"He can feel things now that he previously couldn't feel, pins and needles at times and also being able to feel human touch," Gupta reported. The slight improvements in Reeve's sense of feeling was captured earlier this year on videotape.
"While it sounds pretty small, in terms of overall improvements, there usually is very little recovery that occurs after the first 18 months after a spinal cord injury," Gupta said.
In February, Reeve welcomed Britain's decision to allow continued research on cloned human embryos. He hopes to see a cure developed by removing DNA from a human embryo and infusing it into the spine of a paralyzed victim to develop into healthy new nerve cells.
McDonald said there was no use of stem cells in Reeve's case.
Last year, Reeve established the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, an education resource facility for people with paralysis and their families.
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