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Christopher Reeve & Spinal Cord Injury

Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

October 11, 2004 -- Christopher Reeve, the actor who showed the world the meaning of courage after a spinal cord injury, died yesterday. Mr. Reeve had cardiac arrest, and slipped into a coma. He was 52.

Mr. Reeve broke his neck on May 27, 1995 when he was thrown from his horse during an equestrian competition in Virginia. He was left quadriplegic.

After his injury, Mr. Reeve became a strong advocate for the disabled and for rehabilitation therapy. With his wife Dana, he opened the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center in New Jersey. The Center is devoted to teaching paralyzed people to live more independently.

Mr. Reeve supported stem cell research and helped it emerge as a major campaign issue between President Bush and Senator Kerry. His name was even mentioned by Kerry earlier this month during the second presidential debate.

Reeve's death was sudden. He was being treated for an infected pressure sore, a common complication for people paralyzed by a spinal cord injury.

Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries, such as the one Mr. Reeve suffered, are due to trauma. The trauma may act in one of two ways to injure the spinal cord. It may directly damage cells within the spinal cord. Or the injury may sever the nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord.