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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Interview with Christopher Reeve
Aired January 1, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: He was Superman, until a tragic horse-riding accident paralyzed him from the neck down. Doctors said he would never move. But he has, a finger, his legs, sensation throughout his body. Now he even breathes on his own. And he says that's a lot to be thankful for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER REEVE, FORMER ACTOR: Almost everything they told me about what would happen to me, about what I couldn't do, has turned out to be wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: In his first full-length interview off the respirator, he talks about the accident, suicide, the wife who stood by him no matter what, and the controversy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: They're almost calling you a bully, some of these critics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: A special hour of Christopher Reeve, tonight on PAULA ZAHN NOW.
And good evening. Welcome. Hope you're having a great New Year's Day.
Thanks so much for joining us for this special encore presentation of our hour with Christopher Reeve.
As you'll see, this is a story of giving, a story of thanks, and a family story of a man who is grateful this holiday season for something the rest of us take for granted -- being able to breathe on his own.
First, though, here are some of the headlines you need to know right now.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Here are the headlines at this hour. A strong earthquake has hit a resort community about 200 miles southwest of Mexico City. So far no damage or injuries have been reported. The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.7.
As the nation imposes tough new regulations on cattle, President Bush says he's being reassured by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman that Americans have no reason to stop eating beef.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I've talked to Secretary Veneman about this issue. I told her that I want her to take the steps necessary to make sure that the food supply is safe, and that the American consumer can be confident. And she is looking at different ways to do that. As a matter of fact, she announced some measures the other day.
I think they should be. As a matter of fact, I ate beef today, and will continue to eat beef.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So far, only one case of mad cow disease has been found in the U.S. The Agriculture Department says it's taken many steps to keep the food supply safe, including a ban on the type of cattle feed that's known to transmit the disease.
A U.S. official says authorities were acting on intelligence information when they boarded a jet last night at Dulles International Airport. The British Airways jet filled with passengers was grounded on the runway for at least three hours, while the FBI interviewed about a dozen people. No evidence of terrorism was found.
The U.S. Coast Guard is holding off on oil shipments from Alaska's port of Valdez for the time being. Authorities say the nation's elevated terror threat alert level is the reason. The oil out of Valdez accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. crude oil and 11 percent of the country's oil consumption.
Somebody in South Carolina has 110 million reasons for a happy new year. A ticket sold in South Carolina is one of two tickets to match the winning numbers in last night's $221 million Powerball jackpot. The other ticket was sold in Pennsylvania. So far, neither winner has stepped forward.
PAULA ZAHN NOW continues.
ZAHN: Over the last eight and a half years, we have watched the extraordinary milestones Christopher Reeve has reached in his quest to walk again. In 1995, an horseback riding accident severed his spine and left his paralyzed from his shoulders down. But his progress since then has been incredible.
Movement in a finger, his legs, and now, thanks to an experimental pacemaker in his diaphragm, he's off the respirator. He sounds different and looks different, because he's lost his hair to a condition common in paralysis patients.
But his spirit is as strong as ever. So too is his courage and optimism.
ZAHN: So this will be the first full interview you've done without the respirator.
REEVE: Right, on diaphragmatic...
ZAHN: What does that mean?
REEVE: I mean, it's freedom from the hose, you know, that necktie I've been wearing for eight years. And, you know, even though I'm not totally free, because I still have to have a nurse with me all the time, and it's an experimental procedure, it's not approved yet, still a lot of bugs in the system that have to be worked out. But it really feels like a step forward. Really feels like progress.
ZAHN: Is it a form of liberation?
REEVE: If the nurses would go away. But they're all over me like the Secret Service. It's ridiculous. But that's part of the FDA protocol, because the electrodes can fail, the batteries can fail. I've had a couple fun times where I choked a couple of times, because breathing and eating, I had to relearn how to do both. So I've choked on tunafish and lettuce.
If I do bread next time, it will be a sandwich.
But I'm learning. But can you imagine, you know, at 51, learning how -- OK, one for the breath and one for the food, you know. But to have the whole system working normally, see, air is being drawn in by my diaphragm, whereas on a ventilator, it's just pushed in. And I do so much exercise on all the other muscle groups, that I literally -- I lived in fear of my diaphragm dying. Because it's a muscle. Once it atrophies, you can never have it back.
So the worst-case scenario would be, I'm up and walking, but carrying a ventilator around. That wouldn't be very good.
ZAHN: How much do you think about walking?
REEVE: I always have that picture in my mind. But there's -- I live more in the moment, dealing with day-to-day things. It's, like, you know, just when I started with the diaphragm pacing, there was a moment of celebration, a moment of rejoicing, I had gotten something normal back again.
But then we went, OK, what's next? And that's the way it's been with all my movements. When I suddenly found in 2000 I could move my index finger, the next question is, What's next? You know, so I don't tend to sit around and sleep in the moment for too long. I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the next one.
ZAHN: You don't have many lazy days, do you?
REEVE: No, about as lazy as it gets is going to one of my son's hockey games, cheering at the top of my lungs, which actually is a good workout for the diaphragm, so even then I'm working.
ZAHN: Do you ever place yourself out there on the ice?
REEVE: Yes, I do. There was a time when his team had no goalie coach, and I was a goalie, you know, my whole career in hockey. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I'm going to take this wheelchair, park myself out there, then I'm going to coach these kids how to play goalie. I'll just park myself in the goal and let them shoot at me.
ZAHN: What did you end up doing?
REEVE: None of the above, but I talked to the goalies, and now they've got a goalie coach.
ZAHN: Do you ever resent not being able to be out there physically, to play with your son and to coach him?
REEVE: I do. I mean, I feel that it is true, that I do believe that being is more important than doing. And frankly, I'm there more than most dads, you know, because I don't have a regular job.
ZAHN: How have you worked through the dark days when you've really had to confront the sense of loss in your life?
REEVE: Fortunately, those days are long behind me. And you know what? I still -- and this is eight and a half years post-injury, never once had a dream in which I'm disabled.
ZAHN: What do you dream about?
REEVE: I don't know, this is a family show, right?
ZAHN: I think -- well, we're in prime time.
REEVE: Around 8:00, the kids are still up.
ZAHN: Around the edge there.
REEVE: I dream about all the things that normal, healthy 51- year-old American males dream about, and all kinds of stuff. I mean, I'm a -- Hello, that's God calling, probably (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ZAHN: You're going to be punished for what you just said, Christopher.
REEVE: That's right, yes, God's on the line. He's pissed.
ZAHN: So God's on hold now, Chris.
REEVE: God's on hold, he wants to talk to me about (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
REEVE: He wants to talk to you. What else?
REEVE: Stop having inappropriate dreams. No, a lot of the dreams, actually, are -- you know, because I'm never disabled. I'm always fully able. So they take me back to sailing, they take me to doing a lot of things with the family. Gosh, I think a couple of nights ago I was in an underwater distance swimming competition.
ZAHN: Wow. That must have felt good.
REEVE: I won by about a minute. Yes, I don't know where that comes from, but...
ZAHN: Did you feel triumphant when you woke up?
REEVE: Absolutely. I won.
ZAHN: Talking like the true competitor that he still is.
As we continue this hour with Christopher Reeve, he tells us about the day his life changed forever, the horse-riding accident that left him near death and paralyzed.
How close did you come to committing suicide?
REEVE: I turned to Dana and said, I'm probably not worth having, you know, we should probably let me go. And we agreed to wait a couple of years, and then I still felt the same way, we should reevaluate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: We continue now this hour-long interview with Christopher Reeve, his first full interview without a ventilator.
In the spring of 1995, Reeve was competing in an equestrian event when his horse stopped short in front of a jump. Reeve was thrown and landed headfirst, instantly paralyzed from the neck down.
Though more than eight years have passed, Reeve's memories of that day are very clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christopher Reeve remains in serious but stable condition. Mr. Reeve currently has no movement or spontaneous respiration. He may require surgery to stabilize the upper spine...
(END VIDEO CLIP) REEVE: I just didn't pay attention for a moment, that's all there was to it. And my horse and I were so mentally attuned, from all our time working together, that he knew that my mind had gone away. I was thinking about a harder job.
ZAHN: And you vividly remember that?
REEVE: I'm virtually certain that's what happened.
ZAHN: Just for a split second?
REEVE: Yes. And there's a metaphor there.
ZAHN: The metaphor being?
REEVE: You got to stay in the moment. You got to be right here. You know, whatever it is you're doing, you got to fully focus, because you really pay a price if you're not absolutely there.
ZAHN: Are you tortured by that?
REEVE: No. It's eight years later. I put that way behind me.
ZAHN: But how many years did you wrestle with that?
REEVE: I think the first two years. The, you know, the shock, of course, at the beginning was overwhelming. But I was lucky, I didn't have to face this alone. And my family could not have been more supportive.
ZAHN: What do you miss most about your old life when you were Superman?
REEVE: The spontaneity. Actually -- I actually never thought I was Superman, I'm sorry to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SUPERMAN")
REEVE: Easy, miss, I've got you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've got me. Who's got you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REEVE: I just thought I could fly. It's funny, you know, I played him, I was so young that I remember, you know, that Dick Donner (ph), the director, sometimes would say, you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) scene where I had to walk through fire, and he said, Now, Chris, remember, you can't really do that. You know, I had to have an asbestos suit and all of that, but I was ready to go.
I'd get up on those wires, and sometimes I'd be, like, 100 feet off the ground. And, you know, when I think back on it, it was totally crazy. But I used to think that if the wires would break, I'd just keep going, I didn't even really need the wires.
ZAHN: So that seems to be a part of your character that hasn't been altered in any way by your injury.
REEVE: Complete commitment to something is a -- I guess a part of my personality that hasn't changed. But I'll tell you one thing, when you're playing Superman, and you're standing there in that uniform, you better be pretty committed, because you could look pretty ridiculous in it.
ZAHN: You looked really good.
REEVE: I mean, there's no pockets, you know what I mean?
ZAHN: But even outside of the movie, people would view what you did as Superman-esque. There wasn't a sport you didn't attempt, and all of those sports you played them all aggressively.
ZAHN: You were a physical guy.
REEVE: I mean, I like challenge, I like really learning to do something well. That's fun.
ZAHN: You learn a lot every day, don't you?
REEVE: I do. I've learned a tremendous amount about patience. I learned a lot about communication. And one of the things I spent a lot of time doing is being asked to intervene for people who have just had a spinal cord injury or a stroke and are in that suicidal phase.
Sometimes it's children, that's always very hard. Sometimes it's the person themselves, sometimes it's the family. But it means a lot to me to be able to get on the phone or actually go to the person's house and talk about a future, and say, You might not be ready to hear this yet, but just try to keep an open mind, and don't cave into this.
ZAHN: In the beginning stages of your diagnosis, how close did you come to committing suicide?
REEVE: Well, I couldn't have done it anyway, but...
ZAHN: Or wanting to commit suicide?
REEVE: About a day. When I turned to Dana and said, I'm probably not worth having, you know, we should probably let me go. And we agreed to wait a couple of years, and that I still felt the same way, we could reevaluate it.
ZAHN: And what did Dana say to you?
REEVE: She said, It's your choice, it's your life, but you're still you, and I love you. And I remember her saying I really tested the marriage vows here. Talk about in sickness and in health, I wasn't thinking about this. But what I found is that people who have a really solid bond, when a catastrophe happens, it gets better and stronger. But if that bond is fragile or nonexistent, then a calamity can really drive people apart. ZAHN: Would you be alive today if it weren't for Dana's love?
REEVE: No, and if I were single, I wouldn't be. You know, if I didn't have that kind of a life. You know, the life with Dana and with a family, there's all the difference in the world.
ZAHN: How grateful are you for that?
REEVE: Extremely, extremely, because all my life I had prided myself on being so self-sufficient, you know, they -- absolutely just take care of myself, I don't need anybody, you know, I -- And then you realize how lucky you are to have people who are there for you, no matter what. Yes, it may be an achievement to fly solo, but there's a great deal more true satisfaction in flying together.
ZAHN: A nice way to put that.
Christopher Reeve's dream, to walk again, it is a dream he and his family believe will one day will come true. He was told it never would happen. But Reeve is improving, showing signs of incredible progress. And I'll ask him about the controversy over his impassioned campaign to find a cure.
ZAHN: We are spending the entire hour tonight with actor Christopher Reeve, his first full interview without a ventilator.
Reeve believes pioneering research on spinal cord injuries is being conducted in Israel, research which has won Food and Drug Administration approval for clinical trials to begin in the United States.
As Sheila MacVicar reports, this is a treatment which offers new hope.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There, did you get that on the foot?
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There have been 16 patients so far, and Melissa Holly (ph), an 18-year-old from Colorado, was the first.
MELISSA HOLLY: I had no feeling, I had no movement, and was basically told that a type of injury that I had, the doctor had not seen it recover.
MACVICAR: Within days of being paralyzed in a car accident, Holly was flown to Israel for a revolutionary treatment, a treatment which has helped her spinal cord begin to regenerate, something never seen before. Now she can feel her body and has some movement.
HOLLY: It's just the little things, the feeling, you know, being able to feel when I, you know, touch my knee or when someone tries to get my attention, that to me is a huge blessing.
MACVICAR: Professor Mikhail Schwartz (ph), an Israeli neuroimmunologist, pioneered Holly's therapy, winning praise from Christopher Reeve. Even she was astonished by what happened to Holly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we learn one month after she was treated that she is recovering sensation, I was shocked at that, really shocked.
MACVICAR: Professor Schwartz theorized the human immune system, our white blood cells, might be able to help the central nervous system and the spinal cord recover, a theory that defied medical teaching.
SCHWARTZ: The dogma was immune cells should not be in the brain or the spinal cord.
MACVICAR: The revolutionary idea was to use the patients' own white blood cells, from them extract cells called microphages, incubate them with peripheral nerve cells from the skin, which can regenerate, and create a single patient-customized injection.
Neurosurgeon Nachsham Konoller (ph) has performed the trials in Israel. No one has been made worse, most showed some benefits. And for three, the results were remarkable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One was a quadriplegic. He had a cervical injury. And now he can, you know, step or stand on his toes.
SCHWARTZ: It doesn't mean to say that I'm sure that it's tomorrow where all the spinal cord injury patients will recover, but I'm sure about the concept.
MACVICAR: And because Professor Schwartz is sure, because there are more clinical trials about to start, because more researchers and doctors are following her work, there is more hope for more patients like Melissa Holly.
Sheila MacVicar, CNN, Rehovoth, Israel.
ZAHN: And the treatment Melissa Holly received is still experimental. Phase 2 clinical trials have been approved by the FDA and will be carried out ultimately in the United States.
For the treatment to be effective, it must be started within 14 days of paralysis.
Now, for someone confined to a wheelchair, Christopher Reeve leads an extraordinary full and busy life. But that doesn't mean he misses out on the more mundane challenges of family life. He told me about one recent family crisis.
ZAHN: How much work is it to be Christopher Reeve?
REEVE: Oh, it's a lot of work, I'll tell you. It is, because I've got to allocate my time so carefully, and I'm always thinking, Who did I offend today? I went through a period last week where the dog didn't like me.
ZAHN: What did you do to your dog?
REEVE: I was crushed. I couldn't figure out what happened. But she's 11, she's a sweetheart, she loves everybody, and, I mean, we've always been afraid she would go away with the FedEx man. I mean, this is not a watchdog. This is a mushball.
And last week I went through a phase where she didn't want to be near me. And every time I came in the room, she would leave.
ZAHN: What had changed?
REEVE: I don't know. It reminds me of high school, though.
ZAHN: You remember her name?
REEVE: No, but it's like, oh, that feeling, what did I do? I mean -- So anyway, we gradually worked it out, and yesterday I took her down to the mailbox and came back with her and spent time. So we're friends again, and everything is back to normal. But I'll tell you that in the middle of the craziness in my life, that literally our dog avoiding me was very painful. So, anyway, we solved that problem.
ZAHN: What do you think the future holds for you?
REEVE: Hard work. It's, you know, keeping my commitment to helping other people get through situations, making sure that the family stays OK, and, you know, everybody's doing so well, and yet you always worry that, you know, are thing all OK? And what does life have in store for them?
You want it to be the best, you want to do everything you can. That's why I got so upset when the dog didn't like me. Our beloved dog, Chamby (ph), didn't like me for a week. I'm going, Oh, my God, it will be the kids next, you know, and...
ZAHN: You're back in the dog's good graces. Not to worry.
REEVE: I know, but I managed to get back, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: As we continue our hour with Christopher Reeve, we'll see his controversial work to push researchers to find new ways to treat spinal cord injuries.
(NEWSBREAK) WHITFIELD: It's likely to be a busy 2004 for President Bush with an election on the horizon, the ongoing war on terrorism, and plenty of unfinished business from 2003. White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reports.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After bagging five quail on a New Year's Day hunting trip, President Bush took questions from reporters, ranging from U.S. relations with Iran, to mad cow disease. Despite having temporary lifted aid restrictions in Iran to help Americans provide relief for earthquake victims, Mr. Bush said more needs to be done before U.S.-Iran relations can improve.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iranian government must listen to the voices of those who long for freedom, must turn over al Qaeda that are in their custody, and must abandon their nuclear weapons program.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush also stressed the important of a stable Pakistan, a nuclear power and Afghanistan's neighbor, critical to the U.S.' success against al Qaeda. Its leader, Pervez Musharraf, has survived two assassination attempts in as many weeks.
BUSH: Obviously, terrorists are after him. And he sounded very confident that his security forces would be able to deal with the threat. President Musharraf has been a friend of the United States. He's been a stand-up guy when it comes to dealing with the terrorists.
MALVEAUX: On the domestic front, following hunting with his father and lunching with his special envoy for Iraqi debt, James Baker, Mr. Bush tried to reassure Americans mad cow disease posed no danger to the food supply.
BUSH: As a matter of fact, I ate beef today and will continue to eat beef.
MALVEAUX: As for Attorney General John Ashcroft's recusal from a sensitive leak investigation involving the White House, the president said he wasn't consulted about the decision.
BUSH: He doesn't talk to me about it, he doesn't brief me on it. My only point is that I'd like to find out the truth as quickly as possible.
MALVEAUX: And while President Bush maintains the time for politicking for his re-election bid will come in due time, on the first day of the new year, the handshakes and baby kissing were sure signs it's close.
(on camera): On Monday, President Bush begins the first work week of the new year with a fundraiser in St. Louis, where he'll add to the $120 million already raised for his campaign.
Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Crawford Texas.
WHITFIELD: From canceled flights to police sharpshooters on patrol, much of the nation is still jittery about a possible terror attack in the new year.
CNN's Elaine Quijano takes a look at a nation on edge.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day after fighter jets escorted a British Airways flight en route from London to Washington, the airline canceled the same flight due to security concerns. At the request, company officials said, of the British government.
New Year's Eve, roughly 240 passengers were kept on board that British Airways plane while it sat on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Passengers were interviewed for several hours before being allowed off. The reason? A U.S. law enforcement official says about a dozen names on the flight's passenger list appeared to match names on a terror watch list.
But in the end, authorities determined the people in question posed no threat. In California, decades of tradition blended with modern reminders of the raised threat level. At places expecting large crowds like the Annual Tournament of Roses Parade and the many college bowl games, stepped-up security surrounds the event.
KELLY MCCANN, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: Security is dynamic. As threat goes up, of course, counter measures go up. And then the threat drops back and recedes. So do countermeasures.
QUIJANO: More than 1,000 federal and local law enforcement officers kept a close watch at the Annual Rose Parade. Although there have been no specific threats, police used bomb-sniffing dogs, video surveillance and helicopters to monitor the area. And in the airspace above the Rose Bowl, authorities restricted flights to only police and military aircraft.
The precaution stretched to all corners of the country. In Alaska, the increased threat level prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to temporary halt the transfer of oil onto tankers from the Port of Valdes. But the heightened security didn't keep Americans from ringing in the New Year in places like New York City's Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip. Still officials aren't letting down their guard, staying focused on possible targets.
PASQUALE D'AMURO, FBI NY FIELD OFFICE DIR.: The airline industry, transportation mode, subway systems, those still remain at a very high alert for this country.
MALVEAUX: As for that New Year's Eve delay at Dulles International airport, a law enforcement official calls it an unfortunate disadvantage for the passengers, but says that safety is the utmost concern. Elaine Quijano, CNN, Reagan National Airport.
WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredericka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Now back to more of PAULA ZAHN NOW.
ZAHN: Our hour with Christopher Reeve continues now. We'll be talking with his wife, Dana. Plus, we'll hear his thoughts on the holiday season what he's thankful for eight and a half years since the accident that paralyzed him.
Christopher has always said he will walk again. And he's pushed himself and the scientific community to make that happen. He does it with non-stop lobbying and high profile fundraising. That has created controversy.
REEVE: I firmly believe that medical research is the key to eliminating disease, reducing healthcare costs. The cost of Alzheimer's Disease, $100 billion every year. Parkinson's disease at least $6 billion a year, spinal cord injuries. $10 billion annually merely to maintain them.
ZAHN: You've gotten involved in the high politically charged environment. Insurance and stem cell research. How many people have you ticked off along the way? What kind of a lightning rod are you?
REEVE: Certainly the entire religious right, a lot of social conservatives, probably a lot of scientists, and some people in the disabled community who think that I shouldn't be going around talking about a cure.
As a patient, as someone sitting in a wheelchair, it's our prerogative to push. And scientists, of course, are free to push back. We're not asking them to do things that are irresponsible. Just don't make a career out of research. Think about the urgency, think about the people who are suffering. You know, and not all of them do all the time.
ZAHN: Some have called your work propaganda that undermines particularly the young and newly injured, who are struggling to face reality, master it, and make a life for themselves from the wheelchairs.
ZAHN: They're almost calling you a bully, some of these critics.
REEVE: I was an actor for 30 years. And sometimes the critics love you, sometimes they don't.
ZAHN: But in your case, it's so personal.
ZAHN: It's got to hurt. REEVE: It doesn't really hurt anymore, because people who would be critical of what I'm trying to do are in a lot of pain. They're probably in a lot worse situation than I am. So I understand that. I understand how someone could lash out.
ZAHN: And what about those people who are cynical, who say, look, millions of dollars spent on research, Chris has some feeling in his body now, he can control his index fingers, his sense of smell is back, but essentially life is pretty much the same for him.
REEVE: The fact that five years after the injury I developed the ability to move my arms and my legs was just a, you know, contradiction. It wasn't supposed to happen. So it's the principle of moving forward. It's the principle of taking an active part in your own future.
ZAHN: And when do you see yourself walking again?
REEVE: Well, I know I said on my 50th birthday. Well, we missed that. But I think we're about five years behind where we could have been in this country because of the controversy over the kind of research, particularly stem cell research. So it's going to depend on politics, on money, you know, in the next three to five years.
ZAHN: Why do some people think it's so cruel that you would even dream about walking again?
REEVE: They've been told it'll never happen and they buy into it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight we celebrate a remarkable breakthrough in spinal cord injuries.
REEVE: And a lot of people were very, very upset about that, but the copy didn't say how many years in the future. Who know, and who knows, right?
ZAHN: You knew that the image of your walking would be unsettling to people. Is there a part of you that drives a little enjoyment out of needling people and getting them to think a different way?
REEVE: I shouldn't do these interviews. I tell the truth too much. Absolutely.
ZAHN: How much fun is it?
REEVE: Well, I want to shake people up.
ZAHN: Do you think along the way you have given some in the paralysis community a sense of false hope?
REEVE: I don't think so. A lot of times - and the people who have been injured for a very long time, 20, 25 years, they were injured before there was any legitimate reason to hope.
ZAHN: How do you view hope?
REEVE: Hope is different from optimism. Hope to me is the product of knowledge and the projection of where the knowledge can take us. And also throwing in a willingness not to buy into conventional wisdom.
ZAHN: How much of your hope is spiritual?
REEVE: More than I thought, actually. Somebody sent me a quote from Abe Lincoln that 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.
We all have a little voice inside us that tells us whether we're doing something decent or not. Something loving, something giving, something caring. But sometimes there's a lot of chatter in our lives, and it's hard to hear that little voice. That's why I have to learn to be quiet sometimes and listen. And having this disability has given me that opportunity.
ZAHN: Christopher Reeve's wife Dana, what she has to say about the accident and what it meant for both of them.
ZAHN: When someone is in a catastrophic accident and has catastrophic injury or illness, life has just changed. And you're continuing with this difficulty day in, day out. It goes on and on.
ZAHN: We turn now to the woman Christopher Reeve says saved his life. It's his wife, Dana.
She's been by his side every since the tragic accident. She's given him support, strength and the courage to fight on. They are an inspiring team.
And director of the Christopher Reeve service Paralysis Foundation, Dana helps touch the lives of many other people.
DANA REEVE, WIFE: I mean, we have a tremendous amount of love and respect for each other. We confer about everything. And I admire him, just as the world admires him. And I feel that he admires and loves me.
And I think that we worked out a lot of our junk before we even got married. So we were together five years before we got married. So it was really - by the time we got married, we were ready for whatever. Really, my main interest when he was in the ICU and he was unconscious, and the various members of the family were saying he'll want this, he'll want that, we should do this, we should do that, the only thing I ever said is let's wait until he wakes up and let him decide.
And that was the most important thing to me, and to get alone with him and to see where his heart really was. And he did become conscious. And we were able to talk by ourselves. And I said that I love you. You're still you, and I love you and I'll be in it for the long haul.
I think he knew that I was telling him the truth. And he's an incredible survivor. And maybe he just needed cue from me to know that he wouldn't every, ever ever be a burden. And that even though we had no idea what was in store or how to do this thing, that that we do it, that we would get through, and that we would do it in the best possible way and that we would still have joy in our life and laughter in our life. And we would cope. And I think ultimately part of that feeling is that we would also be able to help people, because his celebrity is wonderful in that way, to be able to use it as a springboard for other people. Our foundation gives money to medical research, but we also give these quality of life grants.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mine's actually attached to a children's rehab hospital, which is kind of cool.
D. REEVE: That deal with the grassroots day to day issues, getting into buildings that you have to get into, getting transportation to these buildings, recreation.
There's such a great camp program -- playgrounds for children. So many things. Advocacy. It's so important. It's the day-to-day stuff...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay, what's next?
D. REEVE: ...that people living with paralysis face every minute of their lives. And it just seems like a very important part of life, to make sure that -- ensure that their quality of life is high.
Well, it's really, really hard. You are dealing with a complete life change. When someone dies you have -- there's a finite end. There's time to heal, move on.
But when -- living with paralysis is a daily minute-by-minute process. And it can take a tremendous emotional toll.
The emotional impact of this, and plus feeling bad for the person, feeling bad for either your child or your spouse, wishing that things were different, missing the help that the other person brought, or missing having to let go of certain dreams that you may have had, I mean, there's a huge emotional toll. And it's very deep and it's very constant.
Now Chris is incredibly resilient. And he's a big one for pulling him up by his bootstraps. He's gotten very low at times, but he's - he has an incredible innate ability to get himself out of it.
But during those low times, I get a little taste of, like whew, it's almost hard to carry on. We're now eight years out, and I think though that certainly initially, and with small children, it's a tremendous loss. You have this thing where you think the two of you are going to be - going this together. And then - and it changes dramatically. You have to adjust.
Well, we really are a team, luckily. I mean, that's really our gift.
ZAHN: As Dana just said, Christopher Reeve is not one given to despair. I'll talk with him about how his accident gave him a new challenge and a new mission that is leaving him thankful for what he has and hopeful for the future.
ZAHN: I have spoken with Christopher Reeve many times over the years. No matter where, when and how, he gets me to reflect on my own life. I have a feeling no matter who are you are, and whether or not you agree with his politics, you will be hard-pressed not to reflect on your own life and what his life can teach you.
Now a few final thoughts from Christopher Reeve that seem appropriate this time of year.
ZAHN: How have your neighbors been around here?
REEVE: They're great.
ZAHN: What are you thankful for in your life?
REEVE: I'm very thankful to still be alive. I'm very thankful for the family very thankful that everybody's thriving. I'm very thankful that I can look at the future with genuine hope, and that there's useful work to be done.
ZAHN: How hard are you on yourself?
REEVE: I'm a lot easier on myself than I used to be. I used to be very, very competitive. now I have fun being competitive. When I'm doing exercises, for example, I ask the guys helping me to really abuse...
ZAHN: You're a masochist?
REEVE: No, come on. You've got five more in you. That was w- well you can do better than that. You know, push, push. But that's in a very healthy sense. But the number one difference is I don't beat myself up. ZAHN: Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, was once asked, why me? His response, I never think why me? I think, why not me? Do you think that way?
REEVE: Well, life is pretty random, pretty chaotic. And anybody's life can change in an instant. So you don't need to punish yourself by singling yourself out. None of us are exempt. It's a question of what we do afterwards, how we find the meaning.
And once you can see that as an opportunity rather than a complete disaster, then you can really get things done. So I see my life as one continuum. Sometimes I think the earlier chapters were more fun, but is there anybody who's 51 who doesn't wish that he was 21?
You know, I think so many people spend time wishing. I wish I could have that back again, I wish I could be there again, those were the good old days, all that kind of stuff. Well, as a fleeting thought, that's fine. But if you dwell on it, if you really get stuck there, then you're not in the moment again. Then you're going to miss all the new opportunities that are going to come.
ZAHN: What ultimately do you think your legacy might be?
REEVE: I just hope that I won't have spent X number of years on this planet without making some kind of a difference. So you don't have to go out and move mountains. You don't have to go out and turn the world backwards, or conquer polio, or whatever. There's a lot of hugely important things that make a difference that exist in our ordinary lives. And I think it's just the ability to love is the number one thing.
ZAHN: We'll be right back.
ZAHN: Christopher Reeve just doesn't talk about courage, he lives it. He has shown us how he continues to dig deeper and rise higher than many of us might in his situation. And he has shown us how to be thankful for the smallest things we often at a time for granted.
Thanks so much for joining us. Good to have you with us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Good night. Have a very happy new year.
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