Christopher Reeve’s visit to Alyn Hospital gave both sides hope and strength.It wasn’t every day that someone like Christopher Reeve came to visit us at Alyn Hospital.
I had very little to do to prepare for his visit, but the buzz was felt all around. Even though we are used to preparing for special visitors, the details and specifications that were required for Reeve’s visit to our orthopedic rehabilitation center during his trip to Israel last month kept everybody hopping. I was so nervous about the visit, I even had dreams and nightmares about it for the week before; would we “rise to the occasion”?
Suddenly, everything I did throughout the day had a new meaning. I can stand up and get myself a drink, I can use my hands to lift the glass to my mouth to drink. I can drink whatever I want. I can walk to the bathroom when I need to go. I can breathe freely and not be dependent on a nurse to always be nearby to insure that my ventilator is working properly so that I don’t suffocate.
Before the visit I knew very little about Christopher Reeve. Sure, I knew he was an actor who played ‘Superman’, and a horseback riding accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. I heard a rumor that he had recovered some motion in some limbs.
Well, I was fortunate to have seen him in action with the staff and children at Alyn Hospital. He is an amazing person – intelligent, compassionate, idealistic, realistic, personable and has a great sense of humor (how fitting that Robin Williams was his roommate at Julliard).
You could see him listening throughout the tour with the utmost concentration. You knew he was really hearing every detail by the questions he asked, he really wanted to know what is happening at Alyn, what patients are being treated here, what Alyn does for them, how the treatment is unique and therefore helpful.
Alyn Hospital is Israel’s only comprehensive pediatric and adolescent orthopedic and rehabilitation center offering all of the medical and para-medical treatments available to patients under one roof.
The Center, located in Jerusalem, annually treats over 5,000 physically handicapped children who suffer from congenital birth defects, debilitation muscular and neuromuscular diseases and disabilities caused by the trauma of terrorism, accidents, fires and cancer treatment.
A dedicated team of doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers and volunteers combine expertise love and tireless energy so that each child can reach their fullest potential and highest possible level of mobility.
When Alyn therapists and rehab physicians met with Reeve privately, I was fortunate to attend. This is where I really became familiar with who he is. He wrote a book entitled Still Me. Despite his accident and confinement, he is still the same person he was before the accident with some additional challenges. He takes his role as father, husband and family provider very seriously. He continues to work, he has acted in films, plays and directed a film. He is the chairman of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and lobbies for bills to be passed to improve neurological research so that current theories can actually cure patients suffering from disabilities and diseases.
Reeve was in awe of two patients at Alyn – one is a teenager who had a spinal cord injury and had been in a wheelchair and was on a ventilator – no longer. She stood up and with assistance walked over to him. They smiled at each other. He told her, with a warm smile “you are doing what I want to do”.
“I know you had to work very hard to get yourself out of the wheelchair,” he added, referring to all the therapy and treatment and pain that got her where she is now.
Another patient Shlomi also touched Reeve. Shlomi has muscular dystrophy; he has no muscle power, is permanently confined to a motorized wheelchair, has limited speech and is dependent on a ventilator.
Shlomi paints with a brush in his mouth, and researchers at Alyn created a special easel that he can manipulate on his own with his paintbrush. The mechanisms of the control button are so sensitive to touch, that the tip of the paint brush will move the easel.
Two years ago Shlomi was accepted to the prestigious Bezalel Art School. To quote the Dean of the school, “Shlomi was accepted to Bezalel’s program through normal channels…. The technicalities of a candidate’s situation are never a consideration. Students are accepted purely and simply on the basis of talent, ability, inspiration, individuality and personality and Shlomi met all these criteria to our full satisfaction.”
Now Shlomi is preparing for his trip to Europe as an exchange student. Shlomi presented Reeve with a copy of his favorite painting and on it he wrote “To Christopher Reeve, from Shlomi, keep on fighting”.
Fighting to improve his life, health and that of others is exactly what Reeve does. He told us how he has managed to come this far when all the specialists have told him, he would not improve, would not be able to do this or that (work again, get off the ventilator, travel, regain any mobility…).
He said that hearing this from specialists made him angry and that the anger pushed him to prove them wrong. But be wary, (he said) many patients would get depressed when hearing this and take it as a “self fulfilling prophecy” and not improve.
He was asked how he motivates himself to keep up his intensive regiment of therapy. Hours on the exercise bike, swimming, working with a PT, OT and more. He said doing all this has gotten him to his current improved and “healthy” condition. He knows if he can keep it up and be in the best physical and health condition possible – that his body will be ready for treatment and a cure that will get him walking again.
A lot of who he is came across from how he spoke, what he said and his good sense of humor. He gave and received from the people he met. We wanted our medical and scientific research, concern and admiration of him to give him strength. He wanted to share his knowledge, experience and discoveries with us. And above all, to remember, “That nothing is impossible”.
At Alyn we say “A handicap is not an obstacle, it is a challenge which together we will overcome.”