'It's been crazy' after Reeve's rehab report
Thu Sep 12, 7:38 AM ET
Dan Vergano USA TODAY

Spinal cord experts are reacting with caution to paralyzed actor/director Christopher Reeve's recovery of some motion and sense of touch, but the announcement has sparked a deluge of calls and e-mail from victims and their relatives who are hopeful for a cure.

In a new book, Reeve reports a very limited, but surprising, level of recovery from a 1995 spinal injury.

At the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which has received thousands of e-mail messages, ''it's been crazy,'' spokeswoman Maggie Goldberg says. Washington University in St. Louis, where Reeve's rehabilitation is based, created a Web site ( spine.wustl.edu) and hotline (314-454-8633) to handle questions.

Reeve's fall off a horse compressed his spinal cord at the cervical vertebrae high in his neck, leaving him unable to move or feel below the injury or breathe unassisted.

But two years ago, he began to regain some feeling of touch and movement with the fingers of his left hand, his feet and right wrist.

The recovery followed an experimental regimen of exercises in which his muscles move through electric shocks. A report in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine notes that he ''has seen no substantial improvement in bowel, bladder or sexual function.''

''We've had an overwhelming reaction. It's something we underestimated,'' says John McDonald of Washington University. ''We have to make sure it isn't overblown.''

In the journal report, Reeve says, ''I want to recover to as near as normal as possible, and I hold that dream.'' But rather than focusing on the distant possibility of paralyzed patients walking again, McDonald advises patients to focus on smaller, more achievable goals. Examples are the increased time, more than an hour, that Reeve can breathe without assistance and a small sense of touch that permits him to feel more connected to his family.

''Anecdotal reports of these sort of things happen all the time, and we have to accept them with a degree of skepticism,'' says orthopedic surgeon David Apple of the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a leading catastrophic-care hospital. ''We have patients in similar exercise programs, and we haven't seen any dramatic help or changes in them.''

Apple says recovery of very limited motion, breathing ability or sense of touch is not unprecedented in other paralyzed patients, but it usually occurs within three years of an accident.

"If the wind could blow my troubles away. I'd stand in front of a hurricane."