Superman walks

25.03.02: THEY TOLD him he would never walk again. That was seven years ago, but at last night's Oscars ceremony Christopher Reeve delighted the watching millions by hauling himself out of his wheelchair and striding across the stage to present a lifetime achievement award to his old friend Robin Williams.

A riding accident in May 1995 left Reeve paralysed from the neck down. He snapped two vertebrae and seemed condemned to spend his life in a wheelchair, breathing with a ventilator and speaking through a voice box. Yet the former Superman has regained the use of his arms, legs, bladder, bowel ­ and voice.

How did he do it? Prompt use of methylprednisolone, a steroid, reduced initial damage. Then tissue was transplanted to act as a bridge across which motor neurons could reconnect.

Reeve spends hours every day on a treadmill to build up his leg muscles. It is this determination that has made him an icon for quadriplegics worldwide. SC

  • Also offering hope to the disabled is an implant that should eventually enable patients to move an artificial limb by thought alone.
  • Glass cones containing electrodes are implanted in the motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movement. Neurons grow over the cones and connect to the electrodes. The theory is that when the patient thinks about moving his leg, the electrodes send a message, via a transmitter-receiver in his skull, to an artificial limb. The treatment is the brainchild of Dr Ron Bakay of Emory University, Atlanta. JB