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Christopher Reeve (1952-2004)

On October 10, 2004, Christopher Reeve went into cardiac arrest Saturday while at his home in Pound Ridge, New York, then fell into a coma and died Sunday at a hospital surrounded by his family.  Reeve had developed a serious systemic infection from a pressure wound, a common complication for people living with paralysis.

The former actor made international headlines when he suffered paralysis after falling from his horse in an equestrian event.  He was paralyzed from the neck down.  Following that, he embarked on a new life, fervently advocating spinal cord and stem cell research.  Because of his efforts, he drew much attention to spinal cord injuries and the research that can treat such critical ailments.   

Reeve was born September 25, 1952, in New York City, son of a novelist and a newspaper reporter.  After graduating from Cornell University in 1974, Reeve pursued his dream of acting, studying at Juilliard under the legendary John Houseman.  He acted on Broadway debut opposite Katharine Hepburn in A Matter of Gravity in 1976, and then continued to distinguish himself in a variety of stage, screen and television roles.  It wasn’t until his title role in Superman in 1978 that he gained international acclaim as an actor.  He would do 2 more Superman movies, as well as other movies. 

Active in many sports, Reeve owned several horses and competed in equestrian events regularly.  

Tragically in May 1995, Christopher Reeve suffered his paralyzing injury.  Witnesses to the 1995 accident said Reeve’s horse had cleared two of 15 fences during the jumping event and stopped abruptly at the third, flinging the actor headlong to the ground.  Doctors said he fractured the top two vertebrae in his neck and damaged his spinal cord.

After the accident, he remained strong - I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I live my life. I don’t mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery, Reeve said. 

He became active in promoting spinal chord injuries and treatments.  He raised public awareness about the significance of medical research and the challenges facing those with disabilities, he also educated families about the importance of having adequate health and disability coverage. 

In 1999, Reeve became the Chairman of the Board of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF). CRPF, a national, nonprofit organization, supports research to develop effective treatments and a cure for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and other central nervous system disorders.  CRPF also allocates a portion of its resources to grants that improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

It was largely his work with the CRPF, he successfully lobbied to double the National Institute of Health to double its budget in five years from 12-billion dollars in 1998 to 27.2-billion in 2003.  He worked tirelessly to obtain increased funding from both the public and private sectors to cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, ALS, stroke, as well as to repair the damaged spinal cord.  He also helped establish the Reeve-Irvine Research Center at the UCI College of Medicine, which supports the study of trauma to the spinal cord and diseases affecting it, with an emphasis on the development of therapies to promote the recovery and repair of neurological function.  Reeve also emerged to lobby Congress for better insurance protection against catastrophic injuries. 

He saw the promise in stem cell research in potentially treating spinal chord injuries and in 2000, vowed that he would walk again.  His advocacy for stem cell research helped it emerge as a major campaign issue between U.S. President George W. Bush and his Democratic opponent, John Kerry.

Upon his death, both presidential candidates paid tribute to Reeve as a hero.