CNN LARRY KING WEEKEND
Encore Presentation: Interview With Christopher Reeve
Aired October 6, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, real-life Superman Christopher Reeve, his wife Dana, making medical history by regaining movement in his hands and feet, seven years after being paralyzed from the neck down. Their inspiring story of love, faith and the human spirit is next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
KING: The last time Chris was on this show as a guest was two years ago. He was on one year ago when the stem cell research decision was made. At that time he called in by phone to offer a critique of the Bush administration and their handling of that situation. He'll be 50 years old in two days. Happy birthday.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE: Thanks a lot, Larry. Thank you.
KING: Now, what's going on? I mean, you're moving parts -- what's going on?
C. REEVE: Well, it's about time. Only took me five years. What's been happening is that I have been doing a lot of exercise starting in rehab and going on day after day after day. And it turns out that exercise is able somehow to reawaken dormant pathways and get movement.
KING: But how do you explain it in this regard, Chris? I'm trying to picture it as a total layman, if the spine is cut off, how can the finger -- and the brain can't signal the finger, how can the finger move?
C. REEVE: OK. Where you're wrong is in the cut off part, because actually my spinal chord wasn't cut at all. It just has a hemorrhage in the middle of it at one point. And so there are a lot of nerve tracks that have been spared and lot that are reawakening because of exercise.
KING: And how much more can happen?
C. REEVE: Unlimited. We really don't know. And -- but we're sure going to find out. I'm going keep exercising because I think the cure is going to come from patients doing exercise to maintain health and prepare for science.
KING: So exercise is going to be a significant part of the cure?
C. REEVE: Yes. And actually now, there are activity-dependent recovery programs that are being developed all around the country just for that purpose.
KING: Dana, were you with Chris -- what was the first thing, Dana, that Chris moved? was it a finger or toe?
DANA REEVE: It was his finger. And, yes, we were there. We were having a conversation in our home. And every time he said something where one might gesture, use a hand gesture, his finger was popping up. And we both started to notice it. And then he said, I think I can make that happen on my own. And he did. He sort of literally commanded his finger to move and it did. And then it got to the point where he could just think it.
KING: So it was happening as a reflex action and then he made it happen.
D. REEVE: Well -- right, exactly.
KING: OK. There you see the tape. Let's see some actuality. Chris, we're going to try something here. There, we've got the hand. We've got our camera on your left hand with the wedding band. Let's put it back. Move the finger.
C. REEVE: ... in other words, to show that it's voluntary, you give me the instruction. You say go.
KING: OK. Christopher Reeve, I'm your director here tonight. Move your finger.
C. REEVE: Say go.
D. REEVE: There you go.
C. REEVE: Say stop.
C. REEVE: Say go.
D. REEVE: Who's directing who here?
KING: Stop. He's directing me. All right, now, explain what's happening, Chris. As I say, go, what are you doing?
C. REEVE: OK. What's happening is that just as normal, I hear you and my brain deciphers what you've said because I speak English, and then it goes down the spinal cord all the way to the seventh cervical vertebra, which is way below my injury. Then the message goes out to the peripheral nerves and all the way down to the finger and I get instantaneous reaction.
KING: Now I am told...
C. REEVE: And that's why -- sorry.
KING: I'm sorry, go ahead.
C. REEVE: And that's why we got so excited. See, that movement was so random, so unexpected. We figured anything else is possible.
KING: I'm told you can move the right wrist, fingers on the left hand. Now feel a light touch or a pinprick over the body. Can move arms and legs in a pool. Can breathe on your own for about an hour at a time.
C. REEVE: Hour-and-a-half. Somebody reported that I could wiggle my hips. Why would I want to do that? I did that when I was five.
KING: What does it feel like, Chris, when you're off the machine?
C. REEVE: It's great because I used to just gulp for air like a fish out of water. But now I'm able to sit very serenely and use my diaphragm. And listen to classical music and I just let the body happen. It's really been quite remarkable. It's really been exciting.
KING: Dana, what do you make of this?
D. REEVE: Well, it -- somehow it doesn't surprise me that much. And I know that may sound odd because the predictions were dire. But there is nothing yet that anyone has ever said to Chris that he hasn't defied. When they say he can't do something, he makes it a point to actually go ahead and do it. And that's been across the board. He's someone who has defied predictions from the first day. So I'm thrilled. I'm so excited for him. And I think he's a great inspiration and motivator for so many people.
C. REEVE: But the main message, Larry, is it's really not just for me.
D. REEVE: Yes.
C. REEVE: I'm privileged. I have a staff. I have the equipment. But the one thing that I really hope comes out of this is that there's a paradigm shift in the way we look at what insurance should be doing to give people equipment so that they can accomplish the same thing that I have been able to accomplish. And that's really, really key. Otherwise it's just one individual.
KING: And how do you react, Chris, to those who say the reason you can do this is you have the wherewithal to spend the funds, to have the physicians, the equipment, your chair, the kind of people around you that the average person doesn't have? C. REEVE: Frankly, everything that I can do can be done by a family at home. Well, even if you have a pool in your house, you could do the aqua therapy. But riding on a bike and using electrical stimulation of the muscles, the breathing off the hose, you can do that with your own family. And also you can do it at rehab centers as an outpatient.
The main thing that will make a difference is that insurance companies need to pick up this therapy and pay for it, because they will profit off of it. People like me will stay out of the hospital and people with lower level injuries will get up and get out of their chairs.
D. REEVE: We also, though, there's a bill, the Christopher Reeve bill is about to drop, we hope, in...
C. REEVE: It passed unanimously in both houses.
D. REEVE: Yes, and one of the things it will establish, a center of excellence in all 50 states. So if you can't afford or if insurance is still a snafu for your family, you can go somewhere where it has the exact same equipment that Chris has been using. He is not really Superman, and there is no real (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's that he has tremendous motivation and hard work, and people pushing him. And if we can get those factors for others.
KING: Good line, Dana. I've got to get a break. As we go to break, and we'll be -- by the way, we're going to include phone calls for you at the bottom of the hour for Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana. Here's a clip from Christopher Reeve, "Courageous Steps," the documentary done by his eldest son, Matthew. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. REEVE: He was explaining something, something like this, where you would normally gesture, and I was noticing that when he would do it, he would go -- his finger would move. And he said, I think I can make that happen. And I said, OK, yeah, right, make that happen. And he actually commanded his finger and said, "move," and it moved. And he would say "move" and it moved.
C. REEVE: And I built on that, and from that time it's expanded into a much larger range of movements and exercises that I have been able to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. REEVE: Nothing could have prepared me emotionally for what happened next in St. Louis. I just looked down at my feet and I willed my quadriceps and hamstrings to step forward. My legs remembered how to walk. And I stepped. And then the assistants nearly placed my feet on the pool bottom so I wouldn't twist an ankle.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Wow. We're back with Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana. Now, Chris, this doesn't now lessen the need for more stem cell research, does it?
C. REEVE: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, there's been a really wonderful development in California just the other day. The state legislature has authorized a bill that would allow the state government to fund research on stem cells derived from any source. And that's a tremendous breakthrough. And I hope that it creates a grassroots movement across the country.
KING: Dana, I know it's discussed in the book, but when Christopher was on this show, one of the first times he was on, maybe the first time, he said one of the things he thought about doing when this first happened was killing himself.
D. REEVE: Early on.
KING: Did he relay that thought to you at that time, Dana?
D. REEVE: Early, early on, yes. Really right after he had regained consciousness in the hospital in Virginia. He talked about it. We discussed it, actually, as an option. And it was something that he -- I think everyone does this. You have these late night conversations with your loved ones or your friends and you say if such and such ever happens to me, I don't want to live. And that had been a discussion.
C. REEVE: But briefly.
D. REEVE: What's that? Briefly. Well, it had been a brief one, but before the accident, just the idea of what you imagine you can withstand, and then the reality -- they're two different things.
KING: And he told me he stayed alive because of you. But you say in the book that you said, let's give it two years and if after two years you still want to kill yourself, I'll help you?
D. REEVE: Well, that was more of -- you call it a salesman tactic.
C. REEVE: Yeah, that's what a car salesman does.
D. REEVE: If you don't like it, you can return it.
C. REEVE: You try it, you don't like it, bring it back. It will be fine, we'll give you a refund.
D. REEVE: I figured that after...
C. REEVE: You know, two years, two years of living with this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and our dog and our house and our love and is like, no way.
KING: Christopher, what are your days like, though? There's less pausing when you speak now. I notice there's not a heavy breath. There's no longer those heavy intakes about every 10 or 15 seconds. Is life much better, or is it still a lot of terrible aspects?
C. REEVE: No. There are very few terrible aspects. And yeah. I have -- when we first talked, I could only, you know, sit up in the chair for about six hours at a time, because of the skin infections. Now it's 16 hours. And I don't have to be turned in bed every night. A lot of breakthroughs.
But you know one thing? I was seeing the tease, seeing the steps, you know, walking across the pool. I remember that I had said that I hoped to walk by my 50th birthday. Well, my 50th birthday is going to be on Wednesday. And technically speaking, now that I see that, I did it. It took 11 people to hold me up, but I think I actually made the deal. Will you give me credit for that?
KING: You made a promise on this program and you kept it.
C. REEVE: Thank you very much. Thank you.
D. REEVE: There you go.
KING: Speaking of keeping, what keeps you going, Dana?
D. REEVE: Well, Chris keeps me going. Our son Will keeps me going. There's not a lot -- life keeps me going. I'm basically a happy person. I don't need a lot of prompting to keep going.
KING: How did your son come up with the idea of doing a documentary, or was it your idea?
C. REEVE: No, no. It was actually Matthew's idea. He's an art and art history and art theory student at Brown. And once the finger moved in September of 2000, and Dr. John McDonald (ph) at Washington University wanted to do a study, Matthew came to me and said, can I do a documentary? And I thought, yes, this is a way to help him start with the career he's interested in. Also, I wouldn't want a stranger following me around. That was really important.
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that's changed in your life, Chris, and it comes as a surprise to me, because I remember including in my book, when I wrote a book some years back, "Powerful Prayers," asking you, and you said you were kind of an agnostic, you were certainly not a religious person. You didn't look to God. You didn't say please, God, help me get better. Has that changed?
C. REEVE: Well, believe it or not, in my book, "Nothing is Impossible," I have divided it into two chapters: the search for spirituality, one chapter is on faith. The other chapter is on religion. In a way they're kind of different for me. Because as a kid, religion seemed to be a bit scary, that somebody sort of -- you were kind of guilty while going into church. And it sort of sometimes made you feel bad. But over time, you know, I have actually become a Unitarian. And we embrace that because it's all inclusive and it's about the goodness in people. That God, you know, loves us and that he assumes that we are good. And also it just assumes that we have a moral compass inside us. And we kind of know what's right. And I write in the book, actually, I take my belief from something Abraham Lincoln said. He said in 1860, he said, when I do good, I feel good, when I do bad, I feel bad and that's my religion. And I think we all know that. We can understand that.
KING: Let me get a break and we'll take calls for Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana. The new book "Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life," with an amazing guy and extraordinary lady. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "CHRISTOPHER REEVE COURAGEOUS STEPS")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's already made more progress than even I would have ever predicted based on the therapies that we've been providing. Pretty much no one else would probably even believe that he's had this recovery. That's the magnitude of the impact that this has.
Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "CHRISTOPHER REEVE COURAGEOUS STEPS")
C. REEVE: What was really remarkable was their staff in St. Louis asked me and our staff if what we wanted to do. So we said, well, let's see what happens if I sit and see if I can kick my legs. What was remarkable is that I kicked both legs in spite of the fact that I had five pound ankle weights on each leg.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana Reeve. The book is "Nothing is Impossible." And the clips you're seeing are from "Christopher Reeve Courageous Steps" which was put together by his eldest son Matthew. Christopher is with his wife Dana. And we're going to include your phone calls.
Metairie, Louisiana, Hello.
CALLER: I have been paralyzed for a few months now. And I just want to know, like, I heard all the remarkable things about how he's recovering. And I just think that's so amazing. I just want to know how all that's happening. I want to know if it's possible that I could actually have that done to me or many people are getting it done. I don't know.
KING: Are you paralyzed waist down, sir?
CALLER: From the T-3. That's around the chest. KING: OK. Chris, I guess you know what that is.
C. REEVE: Yes. You have a really good shot because there is something called treadmill walking therapy which is now being done at many centers around the country. And people have -- who have your level of injury, you've got upper body. You can use your arms I assume. And what you do is get to one of these centers and you go on a treadmill for about an hour a day for about 60 days and after that time you'll be able to walk on your own. It's been done already in about 500 people in this country.
KING: Wow. You explain...
C. REEVE: Let me tell you how to do this. If go to Paralysis.org, and that will get you to our resource center and we can help you.
KING: That's Paralysis -- repeat that.
C. REEVE: Paralysis.org.
KING: Paralysis.org. Can you explain, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the next call, without being too technical, why exercise works?
C. REEVE: The reason that it works is because there is energy and memory stored in the spinal cord and there's something called a central pattern generator in the lumbar region. Sorry. Because it doesn't take a lot of brain power to walk. So simply the repetitive motion will remind your spine how to walk. And you'll be able to do it, probably with a cane, but you'll be able to get up out of your chair.
KING: Carmel, Indiana, for the Reeves, hello.
CALLER: Yes, hi Larry, Chris and Dana.
CALLER: I actually have two questions.
KING: Go ahead.
CALLER: If you were to have let's say appendicitis attack, or an ulcer, how would you detect it? and my second question is, what do you do to help prevent osteoporosis?
KING: Two great questions.
C. REEVE: Well, I'm lucky. First of all, I had my appendix out when I was about 12. So that was easy. I actually did have ulcers as a result of the injury because a spinal cord injury affects every organ in the body. And fortunately the ulcers did go away after about a month. And the second part of the question...
D. REEVE: To interject, he can feel hunger and stomach pain and so you can tell.
KING: So in other words, if you had, God forbid, angina pain, you would feel it?
C. REEVE: Yes, absolutely.
KING: Second part was how do you prevent osteoporosis?
C. REEVE: Right. The way you prevent osteoporosis is by bearing weight, by standing, which is done with a tilt table. You lie horizontal and you get strapped on and then you stand vertically and also you take massive doses of calcium. I, in fact, developed severe osteoporosis but was put on a course of calcium and a drug called Eridia (ph) every two months. And I have gone from severe osteoporosis back to having the bones I had when I was 30. So osteoporosis can be reversed totally.
KING: Hayward, California, hello.
CALLER: Good evening, first of all, I want to let you know that you've been a big inspiration to me and my family. I have been battling breast cancer, bone cancer and now leukemia all within the last year. And I just want to know how you both stay so motivated and keep your faith and stay strong and stay together.
C. REEVE: I think...
KING: Dana, you want to start with that?
C. REEVE: That's all right, you go ahead.
KING: Dana, you start.
D. REEVE: I think -- I mean, what you're battling is you have one thing after another. And my heart goes out to you. We support one another and one of the things that both of us have found, that when we're feeling sorry for ourselves, the first thing we try to do is reach out to help someone else. And it's amazing how you can start feeling better because of that. That's one of the things. What were you going to say, honey?
C. REEVE: Not much more I could add to that, really. That's such a great answer.
D. REEVE: And a support system. It's key to have a support system. We have people who work for us who are incredible. Family members who are incredible. And I hope that you have the same because that sounds like you're going through a lot.
KING: Christopher, aren't there days when you get down?
C. REEVE: Sure, absolutely.
KING: And what do you do?
REEVE: Take action. And I think whether you're on your feet or not, whether you're healthy or not, it doesn't matter. The thing to do whenever you're feeling depressed is you cannot go down that spiral into negativity about yourself. And the way out of it is to do something active. For example, I'll do extra physical exercise, or make sure I really pay extra attention to Dana or the kids.
D. REEVE: Or reach out to friends.
C. REEVE: Or reach out to friends, or do some work. But it's about being action -- in action. And also, getting the attention off yourself. That's number one.
D. REEVE: Yeah.
KING: By the way, Chris, are you going to act and direct again?
C. REEVE: I'll be directing. Hopefully in the spring. And -- but no plans for -- sorry. No plans for acting right now, but directing coming up.
KING: I bet you could do a role, couldn't you?
C. REEVE: Well, what's amazing is that I acted for 35 years and never won an award. And then I did a movie, "Rear Window," after I was injured, and I got the Screen Actors Guild award for best actor. Go figure. Who knows?
KING: We'll be back with more of Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. More phone calls, too. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. It's much stronger than it was the last time we were here.
C. REEVE: Yes.
C. REEVE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sensation now is about 70 percent normal. So he can really feel throughout his entire body. And then the biggest surprise is that he's really had a big jump in his ability to move muscles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If anything, it's made you even stronger on this side.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) C. REEVE: And they stimulate the muscles that make me push the pedals. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is great for circulation and also to elevate my heart rate. Our goal is to get it up into the 90s, to get a cardiovascular workout. And this motion has helped my ability to move my legs on land and in the pool.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Christopher Reeve, his wife Dana. The book is "Nothing Is Impossible." Back to the calls. San Martin, California, hello.
CALLER: I have two questions, actually.
CALLER: OK. The first question is, how voluntary is your movement? I'm in a wheelchair, and I find that I can actually move my leg if I pull real hard. And my second question is, do you have pain, and how do you deal with it?
C. REEVE: Fortunately the movements that we're talking about are all voluntary, and most of them I do against resistance to build up strength. So if I'm lying in bed with my knee bent and my foot in somebody's shoulder, I have them offer a lot of resistance so I have to push hard to strengthen the muscle. And the second part of the question is, luckily, I don't suffer any pain whatsoever. Often, that happens in spinal cord patients, who develop cysts or cavities, but that hasn't happened to me.
KING: I know that amputees claim that they can sometimes feel their arm and feel their finger.
D. REEVE: Phantom pain.
KING: Phantom pain. Do you get that, Chris?
C. REEVE: No, because I have normal sensation or -- sorry. Nearly normal sensation over about 70 percent of my body. So there's no phantom sensation.
KING: Lake Elsinore, California for the Reeves, hello.
CALLER: My nephew broke his neck a couple of weeks ago, the number one vertebrae. And he's still in critical care. What can we do to help him out mentally, to try to uplift his spirits? Because he has bad days and good days. And we're kind of stuck. And also, therapy-wise, when he gets his neck set, hopefully this Thursday, where do we go from there?
C. REEVE: Well, it's going to be absolutely critical to find a progressive rehab center, where they're going to do more than the bare minimum. And also, to protect him from any further injury. But he needs to start exercising as soon as possible, you know, once he's stabilized from the surgery. And again, do not accept any absolutes from doctors. In other words, you have no idea what might happen.
So what I'm saying is it's the same injury I did. My first vertebrae was so decimated that my head was not connected to my body. And five years later, seven years later, I'm moving.
D. REEVE: But also, again, paralysis.org will get you to the resource center if you need a list of rehab hospitals or practical steps you need to take from the point where he's passed the acute phase into the rehab phase.
KING: Everyone should make a note, the caller as well, of that Internet site, paralysis.org. I'm sorry. Go ahead, Chris.
C. REEVE: Larry, if I may. If people would like to get to the foundation to help us...
KING: Oh, sure.
C. REEVE: ... to raise money, if I could just say that there's a couple ways to do it.
D. REEVE: To help the foundation, not us.
C. REEVE: And by the way, I take no money from the foundation.
D. REEVE: Right.
C. REEVE: They don't even pay for gas for the car to come to meetings.
KING: How can people help?
C. REEVE: By donating to just ChristopherReeve.org. And you can also make a donation through Amazon.org. Sorry, Amazon.com.
KING: Amazon.com. I don't know, I'm ignorant, I don't know the difference between org and com. It's all a big blob (ph) to me.
D. REEVE: Clearly to him as well.
KING: Lincoln, Nebraska, hello.
CALLER: Hello, Mr. King. Thanks for the time.
KING: You're welcome.
CALLER: Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Reeve. C. REEVE: Hi there.
D. REEVE: Hi.
CALLER: How do you avoid pressure sores, and when they happen, how do you make them go away?
C. REEVE: Well, I have had my share of pressure sores, that's for sure.
KING: What is that, Chris?
C. REEVE: A pressure sore develops because you can't move enough.
D. REEVE: It's skin breakdown.
C. REEVE: The skin breakdown, and it usually happens in the sacral area, from being seated so long. You try to avoid it by moving back and forth, just tilting your chair every 30 minutes or so, and also being turned in bed at night. But good nutrition is very, very important. Maintaining circulation, once again, that's exercise. But I have had some really bad ones. But the good news is that I have recovered. And you can recover, too.
KING: To Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, hello.
CALLER: Hello. Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Reeve. It is a pleasure to be speaking with you. I wanted to ask, what is your most inspirational message that you can give to families who are going through similar circumstances?
KING: Are you, ma'am? Caller, are you going through a circumstance?
CALLER: No, I'm not.
KING: Oh, you just want what the message would be?
CALLER: Well, I just feel that they are inspirational to all of us who are watching them, and I'm wondering what is the most inspirational message that they can give to families who are going through similar circumstances.
KING: Got it.
D. REEVE: There is hope, I think.
C. REEVE: Yes.
D. REEVE: Three simple words.
C. REEVE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
D. REEVE: Well, no, I think that that is -- if you're going to encapsulate it, there is hope. And that through every dark corridor, there is some door that's going to lead to light. And it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of support. That's easy after-isms to say, not so much to live. But there really is hope.
C. REEVE: And the other thing is that hope -- hope, I say this in my book in an essay called "The Lighthouse," is that hope is different from optimism or wishful thinking. And hope has to be built on the same solid foundation as a lighthouse. But thankfully, where we are now with science and where we are with physical therapy, it's tremendous what's happening, the breakthroughs all around the world. So when I say to people who are paralyzed or suffering from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and leukemia, et cetera, this is really the dawning of a new age of real hope.
KING: We will take a break and be back with our remaining moments with the -- boy, if I think back to the first time I interviewed Chris after the accident on a rainy day in New York City, what a difference. Christopher Reeve and Dana Reeve. The book is "Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life." Back with our remaining moments after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "CHRISTOPHER REEVE COURAGEOUS STEPS")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chris is mostly house bound in the wintertime because it's cold. He is on a ventilator 24 hours a day. He is always susceptible to pneumonia, to colds, flu, any kind of upper respiratory track infection.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back. Herbster, Wisconsin for the Reeves, hello.
CALLER: Yes. I wanted to ask, if they approve stem cell research, how long do you think it will be until they begin the surgeries?
C. REEVE: Well, stem cells are the research with embryonic stem cells and stem cells derived from nucleus transplantation. It's still in its infancy because of political controversy in the federal government, which now fortunately has been broken through and adopted by California. But I think they're going to be able to start getting this into humans within the next three years or so.
KING: Last call. Kanata, Canada, hello.
CALLER: Hello, Chris and Dana. I just wanted to say what an inspiration you both are. The love you share is unbelievable. My question is, you have children and I have a daughter who's extremely in love with horses. And the love of riding is a passion that I have never seen. If you could offer any advice as far as safety. As a mother, it's a big fear. I don't have the love of horses but she truly does.
KING: That's a great question. We've got about 45 seconds, Chris, what advice would you give to the horsemen and horseladies? C. REEVE: OK. Wear a helmet. Don't exceed your abilities. But as a parent, don't make your child afraid. Because if she does it with fear then she might be injured. But my daughter Alexandra, who I taught to ride, she gave it up for a while. And I said, no, continue, you love it. And now she's playing polo for Yale. So you have got to let people go ahead and do their thing and do it safely.
KING: Thank you both so much. You're an inspiration to everybody. And I always love seeing you.
D. REEVE: Thanks, Larry.
REEVE: Larry, thank you so much.
KING: Christopher Reeve, actor, director, activist, author of "Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life," and focus of the recently broadcast documentary "Christopher Reeve Courageous Steps," done by his son, Matthew. And his lovely wife, Dana, what a lady she is. She's on the board of directors of the Christopher Reeve Foundation. And don't forget Paralysis.org. And you can contact Christopher Reeve through ChristopherReeve.org as well.
KING: Christopher Reeve has clearly come a long way since that terrible accident seven years ago. How far? Well, here is a look back at our first interview with him after he was paralyzed. We started by talking about how shocking it was when unexpected tragedy hits home.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, DECEMBER 25, 1996)
KING: If you were watching a show say with Sargent McDonald of the New York City police who has this same thing, it would be just an interesting show to you?
REEVE: Oh my heart will go out to him, but now that I'm the condition, and I realize what the difficulties are, it's -- every day is a challenge. However, we're (OFF-MIKE) special now. I mean, I'm very lucky. Because we're talking at a time when we're on a search for a cure and what I want to talk to you about is because the political connection and the private sector to working we are within five, seven maybe eight, ten years of curing this.
KING: When you mean cure, you mean...
REEVE: I'm going to get up out of this chair and throw it away and walk.
KING: So you mean cure, cure?
REEVE: Yes, I do. Now even if there isn't absolute cure for that, for spinal cords every time you heal somebody even a little bit they have a lower level. They get more motion back, more use. They become more productive, less of a burden, they can do more work. So every little bit helps by the cure as possible. And they on a threshold of it now.
KING: You are then doing better now than someone who have had -- would have had this happen to him five years ago?
REEVE: Five years ago, I wouldn't have survived the accident or I would have died of complications. Today, we're standing here talking about a cure. I'm a very lucky guy.
KING: Lets explain what is going on with you now. What is the apparatus, what is this chair is a what a $40,000 chair.
REEVE: Yes, it is. But I can drive it myself.
REEVE: And I can do some pretty good speed on it to. I can really cruise.
KING: Get going.
REEVE: My son likes to hop on. We use it as a go-cart.
KING: You have no feeling below the neck.
REEVE: Oh, yes. I have increased feeling below. My left leg, for example, recently. I would say I've got about 75 percent feeling in my left leg. It's really coming back.
REEVE: I also have feeling down my spine more than I use to have. Down to about the L-5 area which is really quite low and see I work out and rehab is like boot camp and I really work and I still work at home.
KING: Like doing what?
REEVE: Well I do exercises what's called a toe table where can experience what's like to bear weight. I practice standing up vertically on this strapped to a table and I do something called a Regis cycle which has have been very kindly donated to me.
Where I'm on a bicycle and electrodes are strapped to me and my legs are going around and I'm getting the muscular workout and the aerobic workouts. See I take a very proactive view. You know, I want to be ready when they find the cure. I don't want to be too weak to stand up and go anywhere.
KING: And you want to be right there online to get it.
The apparatus that breathes for you. Explain how that works because I've talked to others that I've told you with this condition and their breathing is farther apart than yours. And some closer and some longer breaths.
REEVE: Well what's happening with me is I'm on a ventilator and that provides me with breath.
KING: It's breathing for you?
REEVE: Yes. Although part of my job and part of what I'm going to do is I'm going to get rid of this thing and kick it out the window too. I'm already at the point where -- on November 1 I could not take one breath, not one and now I'm at the point I can go 90 minutes off this ventilator by myself.
And I work at it. Three times a day I do breathing sessions where I just work.
KING: How are you able to do that?
REEVE: Will power. And what they do is, they take the hose off and I know one guy, a friend of mine actually that a technique was called breathe or die. Just to take it off and you take it in. Now my diaphragm which for six months did absolutely, it got weaker and weaker is now starting to strengthen and I'm working on exercises to strengthen it even more.
KING: If it is ...
REEVE: It's to the point where it hopefully will kick in autonomically and I will be able to breath on my own. That is my goal and I will do that.
KING: Since there is paralyzes, Chris, and we go back a long way. Christopher and I we go back pre-Superman. Do you feel pain when you try to take this breath on your own. So what is the feeling?
REEVE: The feeling is of joy that I'm making progress.
KING: But there must be some pressure to do it.
REEVE: It is harder work than walking up Mt. Everett with a backpack on. It is unbelievably difficult. In particular, psychologically difficult because you know how far you have to go. But on the other hand, I use to think I took on some challenges in life. I'll fly; piece of cake compared to this. However, I see this as a real opportunity to see how far I can go and see to it's the second cervical vertebrate that I've broke. You see you can't breathe. If you break C-4, which is less than an inch further down, you breathe. But the doctors are scratching their heads because at C-2, I'm starting to breathe.
KING: And how do they explain this?
REEVE: Because I may have some innovation of the lower level. I may be what's called incomplete, where you can move down a level and start to get innovation of the nerves slightly lower.
The reason I have these pauses in between, there shouldn't be any pauses on T.V., I know. But ...
KING: I love them. It's a good time to jump in. (LAUGHTER)
...just have to take a break, which we do in a minute. No, in fact, lets do it. This is called a grapper, you know this.
Chris Reeve will explain why there are pauses right after this.
KING: We're back in New York on LARRY KING LIVE with Christopher Reeve who will now will explain, pausing.
REEVE: When open to the pause. The reason is that the ventilator delivers air and I can only talk while that air is filling my lungs. And when its out I have to wait till the next breath to come in. But that's why it gives you a chance to change the subject...
KING: Is it frustrating?
REEVE: It was at first because while I was in the hospital in intensive care, I could not move below my jaw and I couldn't even speak. Couldn't do anything. And so I'm at the point now I can move my shoulders, I can move my legs, I'm making progress and to be able to talk even with these pauses is great. Because to not be able to communicate is really frustrating.
KING: What's the little click we hear?
REEVE: The little click is something called the peep valves, which usually you see on 42nd Street but...
KING: ... Same old Chris Reeve. Nothing changes personality.
REEVE: No the peep valves is just letting air out and keeping back pressure in my lungs. This is that little click but everything's OK. Don't worry.
KING: Before we discuss insurance and government and things people can do, back -- you don't remember the accident at all?
REEVE: It's funny how the psyche and the body shut down when you're in real crisis. Mine shut downs at odd moments anyway.
KING: What do you remember about that day?
REEVE: I remember warming up. I remember getting my horse ready to warm up for the cross country. See this is a three day event. There are three phases. I had already done dressage and then we do cross country and then later the next day will be show jumping. Its all three phases. So and this was down in Culpepper, Virginia, a beautiful place.
KING: Into cost country. REEVE: Love it down there. But anyway...
KING: ...your passport.
REEVE: I remember getting my horse ready for cross country and you put on all your stuff including a serious crash helmet, including a chest protector and mind you this is something I've been doing for years. In fact, I was third in the New England championships last year. Not to brag; but this is not something you do for a wimp on a Sunday afternoon. I was prepared and ready and I had a wonderful horse. I still love him and his name's Eastern Express.
KING: Do you see him?
REEVE: He's gone to one of the best trainers in New England, Jim Stamidts (ph) and unfortunately, he's for sale because I won't be riding anytime right away, but he's under the best of care.
Anyway I hopped on and the next thing remember is about four or five days after the accident coming to in the hospital.
KING: This is a key to -- help me with this. When you open your eyes, you're in a hospital. What's your first thought?
REEVE: It can't be me.
KING: Do you think you fell off a horse?
REEVE: No recollection. Guys gotten very lucky is the first thing I remember is my wife, Dana coming to my side and then I opened my eyes and there Dana was. And ...
KING: No feelings?
REEVE: My situation -- no, are you kidding. I was snowed. I was on every drug they've every concocted plus a few more.
KING: Did she tell you what happened?
REEVE: They had to keep me in traction. So the main thing about the spine you want to prevent swelling. And then swelling is ennapus (ph), swelling makes it worse and if you move -- if you move at all you'll in big, big trouble that's why getting somebody off the field like that is pretty critical. And I'm very lucky to -- you would have lost me there. But fortunately as I went over the horse, the reason entered into myself, is that my hands got caught in the horse's bridle and it came off with me.
So he suddenly refused to jump, unfortunately, and I went down with my hands tangled. So all I -- normally this would have been a sprained wrist and me being mad and that's it. This was very, very odd and very unusual, but anyway I woke up in a hospital about Wednesday and I injured myself on a Saturday.
KING: When your wife told you what happened and the condition you were in; were they directly honest with you? Did they tell you what had happened to the spine?
REEVE: Well, oh yes. And the thing was they didn't -- were working out at that time what to do. Because there's a lot of different disagreements about what you do to someone. The first thing they had to do is they had to stabilize my spine so I was there in traction with screws in my head and a big heavy sort of ball kind of holding me down. So I couldn't move and I couldn't eat anything. They washed my mouth out occasionally with a little orange and raspberry swabs.
I thought I was done for and the thing is the doctors, I had one of the greatest surgeons in the world, Dr. John James, and I'm very lucky that I ended up there instead of like East Elbow someplace and he performed really a miraculous operation that allows me to be recovering the way I am today. But they weren't sure. They said we can't guarantee anything. 50/50, we'll see.
KING: Well, he obviously did recover, and now Christopher Reeve is re-writing medical textbooks. Of course, we'll keep you updated on his progress, and we thank you for watching. We'll see you tomorrow. Good night.
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