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A Recovery Worthy Of Superman

When Christopher Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down in a horse-riding accident in 1995, most experts predicted that he would never feel or move from the neck down again.

But seven years later, Reeve has begun to regain sensation and movement throughout the majority of his body, a fact that has astounded those in the medical community. Dr. John McDonald is one of Reeve's doctors. He talked to The Early Show about Reeve's remarkable development.

"Basically, he's recovered the ability to be able to move most of his joints and he's recovered - to about 50 to 60 percent normal- sensation through his entire body. He can feel pain and he can differentiate cold from hot; he can feel a pleasant stimulus and he can localize it anywhere along his body," Dr. McDonald explained.

Beginning in the year 2000, Reeve began to work under the supervision of Dr. McDonald, a neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis' Barnes Jewish Hospital. In this month's issue of the "Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine," McDonald reports the findings.

"He first started to exhibit some recovery in the year 2000 and the first thing that began to move was his finger," he said. After that, he explained, Reeve improved steadily in function over years.

"First, it was his wrist, his fingers, upper arms, and upper legs," he said, pointing out that though the majority of his movements are not that strong, they can be appreciated when Reeve is in a pool where the force of gravity is lower, he said. "The movement he has greatest control over is his right wrist, fingers on both hands, and his hips." And that is not all, Reeve has even been able to breathe without a ventilator for about an hour at a time.

When asked why specifically these places, McDonald said there is no particular reason why some areas got better than others, but he did point out that the functional electrical stimulus (FES) bike has helped stimulate the muscles of his upper legs.

"Basically no one is in a position to say he will walk or not; this delayed recovery makes one hopeful. The fact is clear that walking is the highest goal. What's important is that we refocus people's goals to more do-able goals, regaining sensation, being healthy, regaining some limited movements," he said.

As for the rehabilitation, McDonald explained Reeve's progression starting from standard rehabilitation. In 1999, he said, Reeve started using the FES bike three times a week and once improvement was visible, aquatherapy was added to stimulate the muscles of the back, chest, abdomen and arms.

McDonald said Reeve has been able to recover in such a way because he "never took no for an answer; he worked incredibly hard since day one."