February 22, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 a.m. EST
From CNN Interactive Reporter Rajee Suri
(CNN) -- Ten months after a horse-riding accident left him paralyzed from the shoulders down, actor Christopher Reeve is brimming with plans and optimism. He is going to write a book, direct movies, give speeches across the country -- and, he says, walk again.
"I am going to get out of this chair, throw it away and walk," he told Larry King in an hour-long interview on CNN Wednesday. "We are on the threshold of a cure -- maybe in five, seven, eight, ten years."
Reeve has been credited with spurring a new infusion of donations aimed at developing treatments for spinal cord injuries. Many say his accident has breathed life back into research aimed at finding cures for various forms of paralysis.
"I am a very lucky guy," Reeve said without rancor or self-pity Wednesday. "I can testify before Congress. I can raise funds. I can raise awareness."
Seated in a $40,000 wheelchair, which Reeve wryly noted can "cruise," the star of the "Superman" film series told a national audience he was stretching his constrained physical abilities to the maximum. "I don't want to be weak. I want to be ready when they find a cure," he said.
Between barely discernible pauses, the former actor explained that the gaps in his speech came from breathing with a ventilator. Only four months ago, Reeve couldn't breathe at all without help. Today, in a certain position, Reeve said, he can breathe for up to 90 minutes unaided.
"Sheer willpower....To be able to talk even with these pauses is great. To not be able to communicate is frustrating."
-- Christopher Reeve
An articulate speaker, Reeve is using his communication skills to good end. He is on the board of the American Paralysis Association, joining the organization in its fight to increase money for neurological research.
Activism is not new to Reeve. A founding member of the Creative Coalition -- an advocacy group of artists including Glenn Close, Ron Silver, and Susan Sarandon whose agenda runs the gamut from homelessness to the environment -- Reeve helped Vice President Al Gore clean up a beach in New Jersey in 1993.
On Wednesday, he urged Congress to make scientific research a priority and raise caps on health insurance.
Research, he said, may even cut the billions of dollars that are spent on Medicare. For instance, he said, the government spends $8.7 billion for care of people with spinal cord injuries. If it spent a significant portion of that on research, Reeve said, there might be a cure for the condition.
Now an ardent lobbyist for scientific research -- especially neurological research -- Reeve admitted that before his accident, he would simply look at people in wheelchairs and think to himself, "I am glad it's not me."
But the point, stressed Reeve, is that there is no insurance against an accident. "Anything can happen to anybody," he said. "Things happen to people, and why should I be exempt?"
He wasn't always so accepting of his disability. At first, he said, there was anger, then despair. He said that lasted for five minutes after he woke up in a University of Virginia Medical Center, unable to move and with the thought, "It can't be me."
But even in his worst moments, Reeve said, he never considered anti-depressants. There were times, he confessed, when he felt a stab of jealousy watching somebody run up the stairs.
Reeve credits his wife Dana and his three children for quickly lifting him out of that initial morass of hopelessness. "You learn the stuff of your life (sports, movies) ... that's not the essence of your existence," he said. "My relationships were always good. Now they have transcended. That's why I can honestly say I am a lucky man," he said.
With his health-care costs some $400,000 a year (not all covered by insurance), Reeve said he has to find work. But before that, the Reeve home has to be re-done to enable him to move around the house. That means fitting equipment like an elevator.
"You know how expensive an elevator is?" he asked King, half in jest. "I am going to direct, write books, give speeches all over the country. I am not going to sit and watch the grass grow."
Yes, he said, he does miss acting. "I was just beginning to get the hang of it," the 42-year-old star of "The Remains of the Day" said with typical self-depreciating humor. "I will shift gears -- move into direction." Offers to direct plays and movies were already flowing in, he said.
An energetic gamesman, Reeve was a skilled horseman, skier, ice-skater and tennis player before his accident. Today, he can't move a muscle below his shoulder. Reeve said it is still difficult for him to accept being still, remaining still.
"In my dreams I go everywhere," he said, a touch wistfully. "I go on wonderful trips with my wife and children. My hardest moment is 7:30 a.m. And oops ... It's all over." (145K AIFF sound or 145K WAV sound)
Minutes before the interview ended, King noted with surprise that there was a noticeable movement in Reeve's leg, but the actor said it wasn't unusual. "It's my body telling the brain: 'Hey, let's go.' I've got an army here, but the general is missing," he said, referring to the wounded connection between his brain and body. (109K AIFF sound or 109K WAV sound)
Some 250,000 Americans suffer from spinal cord injuries. Nine billion dollars are spent each a year in the United States to care for them, while just $40 million is spent on research.
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