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HEALTH REPORT - Actor Christopher Reeve Dies - 2004-10-19

Broadcast: October 20, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Actor Christopher Reeve died last week. He was fifty-two years old. He was a movie star who became an activist for people with spinal cord injuries. Mister Reeve died last Sunday after developing a serious bloodstream infection from a pressure wound. Such a wound can form on the skin of people who are not able to move. The wound became severely infected and the infection spread through his body. It caused his major organs to shut down. He suffered a heart attack and went into a coma at a hospital near his home outside New York City.

Christopher Reeve became famous after starring in the four “Superman” movies in the nineteen seventies and eighties. His life changed in nineteen ninety-five. He was thrown from his horse during a horseback-riding competition. The accident broke his neck, leaving him unable to move his arms or legs. He was paralyzed from the neck down. He could not breathe without the help of a machine. Doctors said he broke the top two vertebrae in his neck and damaged his spinal cord.

At the time of the accident, doctors said he would probably live only for seven more years because of the severity of his injury.

But Mister Reeve surprised the doctors through his efforts to recover. He began working to strengthen his legs and arms. Doctors used electrical shocks to re-activate his nervous system. In two-thousand, he regained the ability to move his finger. He later regained some movement and feeling in other parts of his body. And last year, an experimental electric device was placed in his abdomen. It permitted him to breathe without a respirator for hours at a time.

After his accident, Christopher Reeve promised himself that he would walk again. He used his fame to raise millions of dollars for research into spinal cord injuries. He worked to get better protection for people with long-term disabilities. And he led efforts to increase funding for stem cell research. Many scientists believe such research may lead to cures for paralysis and other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Some research has shown that stem cells could help paralyzed mice and rats to move again.

Experts say about two hundred fifty thousand Americans suffer from paralysis.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Gwen Outen.