Exciting News from the Christopher Reeve Foundation

Almost 10 years to the day that his father died, Christopher Reeve‘s son Matthew Reeve (above left), 34 is making an exciting announcement: The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is about to embark on their most ambitious fundraising drive ever, in the face of a remarkable research breakthrough funded by the Foundation.

cnnreeveAs you recall, Superman actor Christopher Reeve became a quadriplegic in 1995 after an equestrian accident. After that time, he and wife Dana (who died of lung cancer in 2006) became tireless advocates for those with spinal cord injuries, and began the foundation which carries their names.

The Foundation has been a sponsor of research undertaken by Drs. Susan J. Harkema  and Claudia Angeli, at the University of Louisville’s Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center. Their research uses a treatment called epidural stimulation. According to Dr. Harkema, “Epidural Stimulation is a method of stimulation that encourages the body to use its inherent nerve pathways to transfer an electrical current from an implanted electrode array [see diagram below] to the targeted muscle(s). This electrode array is surgically implanted along the relevant section of spinal cord. The electrical current from the array “awakens” the circuitry in the spinal column, enabling the body to acknowledge and possibly respond to sensory input that it was previously disregarding.”


The original study implanted the electrodes into 4 young men with long-term complete motor paralysis. All the men became able to move their lower extremities with the stimulation. And the ability improved over time. They were also able to recover some other important functions, namely bladder and bowel control and sexual function.

According to researchers, following implantation, each participant was able to:

  • Voluntarily move his legs, ankles, hips, knees and toes when the stimulator was turned on
  • Bear weight independently when the stimulator was turned on
  • Move with less stimulation after repeated stimulation and daily therapy
  • See increased muscle mass
  • Improve blood pressure regulation
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Recover improved bladder, bowel and sexual function
  • Regulate body temperature

The first patient, Ron Summers, 28, a former college baseball player turned coach and motivational speaker told People magazine: “This is absolutely life-changing. ” Participant Dustin Shillcox, 30, agrees “It’s given me self-confidence.”

Matthew Reeve, along with siblings Alexandra Reeve Givens (above middle), 30, and Will Reeve (above right), 22, have continued to support the Foundation since their parents deaths, and are all involved in the new fundraising project, call The Big Idea. They hope to raise $15 million to expand the clinical trial to 36 patients.

For Matthew, “It’s hard not to think, ‘What if he was here and what if he was present for this breakthrough?’ ” But his next thought is usually:

“As much as we miss him there’s a comfort in the fact that we wouldn’t be where we are had it not been for his tireless advocacy.”

Here is a little more about the project:

The Foundation is asking the public for its support. If you would like to donate to The Big Idea, click here.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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