Thursday, October 2, 2003

Reeve tells of hope for cures

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Christopher Reeve
As the general health of the U.S. population improves, people can expect to live longer, Christopher Reeve told his audience Wednesday night at the Westin Hotel.

But what is the point of living to be 90, he said, if we can't come up with cures for diseases like Alzheimer's, cancer and Parkinson's, which diminish the quality of life.

"We have to learn to collaborate," Reeve said.

"Insurance companies should not be scared of patients," Reeve said. "And patients should not regard insurance companies as enemies."

Reeve was the featured speaker at the Health Improvement Collaborative 2003 Award Dinner and fund-raiser. Great strides are being made in the treatment of spinal cord injuries by researchers who are willing to try innovative treatments, said Reeve, who was paralyzed from the shoulders down after a fall from a horse in 1995. Through exercise and electrical stimulation, Reeve said he now has feeling in 70 percent of his body, compared to 12 percent after his accident.

Innovative approaches should be used against all as-yet incurable diseases or conditions, he said.

He offered the example of a physician who has put paraplegics on treadmills.

The repetitive movement has reprogrammed the spinal cord, resulting in curing the paralysis in some patients.

"To this day, he's got 500 people out of wheelchairs," he said.

Despite this breakthrough, Reeve said, it remains difficult to get treadmills into rehab centers because the centers are afraid the insurance companies won't reimburse them for the costs.

Insurers need to be more receptive to innovative procedures and realize that in the long run they will reap the benefits when people are cured and no longer need treatment, he said.

Reeve is best known for starring in four Superman movies from 1978-87. Since his 1995 accident, he's become an advocate for increasing financial support of research aimed at curing spinal cord injuries.

Reeve told his audience of 450 he almost didn't make it to Cincinnati because of a mix-up with his flight.

He never had that problem during his Superman days, he joked.

"I'd just put the cape on and take three steps,'' he said.


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