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  • Nothing Is Impossible
  • Written by Christopher Reeve
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  • Nothing Is Impossible
  • Written by Christopher Reeve
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Written by Christopher ReeveAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Christopher Reeve

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On Sale: September 24, 2002
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-58836-109-7
Published by : Random House Random House Group
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Synopsis

Christopher Reeve has mastered the art of turning the impossible into the inevitable. In these candid reflections, Reeve shows that we are all capable of overcoming seemingly insurmountable hardships. He teaches us that for able-bodied people, paralysis is a choice—a choice to live with self-doubt and a fear of taking risks—and that it is not an acceptable one. Reeve knows from experience that the work of conquering inner space is hard and that it requires some suffering—after all, nothing worth having is easy to attain. He asks challenging questions about why it seems so difficult—if not impossible—for us to work together as a society. Nothing Is Impossible reminds us that life is not to be taken for granted but to be lived fully with zeal, curiosity, and gratitude.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

The First Decision

As the old saying goes, you better know what you want because you might get it and you've got to accept it. Whether you succeed or whether you encounter adversity you always have to believe in your worth as a person. That's what counts.
-Remarks at a success seminar in Portland, Oregon, February 6, 2001

When I made those comments in 2001, it was no longer difficult for me to say to anyone that you have to believe in your worth as a person. But in the intensive care unit at the University of Virginia on June 1, 1995, I had no such belief. Far from it. On that day I regained consciousness to find myself lying in traction, a heavy metal ball suspended behind my head attached to a metal frame secured by screws in each temple. I learned that as the result of a fall during an equestrian competition I had broken my neck just centimeters below the brain stem, and that my chances of surviving the surgery to reattach my head to my spinal column were 50/50 at best. Even if the operation was successful, I would still remain paralyzed from the shoulders down and unable to breathe on my own. I heard the whooshing sound of a ventilator as it pumped oxygen into my lungs through a long tube inserted into a hole in my neck. I've lived with that sound for many years.

The moment I understood the gravity of my situation my immediate reaction was that such a life was unacceptable, even though I knew absolutely nothing about living as a vent-dependent quadriplegic. I realized that there was no cure for spinal cord injuries like mine and that I would forever be dependent on others for the basic necessities of daily existence. My role as a husband and the father of three children would be severely compromised, because paralysis had suddenly transformed me into a forty-two-year-old infant. I thought it would be selfish and unfair to remain alive.

I remember going over my life, taking an inventory of all the cuts, bruises, broken bones, and illnesses I had weathered, ranging from mononucleosis to malaria and mastocytosis (a rare disease that destroys red blood cells as they emerge from the bone marrow). At age sixteen, I developed alopecia areata, a condition that causes patches of baldness in an otherwise healthy head of hair. Fortunately I was able to comb over the spots, and there were long periods of remission when the baldness disappeared. I was a survivor; I always had been. A part of me insisted that this situation shouldn't be any different; another part acknowledged that this time I had gone over the edge and was free-falling into the unknown.

The month I spent in the intensive care unit was an emotional roller-coaster ride created by my own inner turmoil and contradictions coming from those involved in my case. The critical care was nothing short of miraculous. Dr. John Jane-arguably one of the best neurosurgeons in the world-achieved the nearly impossible feat of reattaching the base of my skull to my spinal column with wire, titanium, and bone grafted from my hip. Under his watchful eye, a team of internists and pulmonologists cured me of ulcers and pneumonia. By the second week I was able to turn my head about half an inch from side to side, and I could raise my shoulders slightly. Dr. Jane was confident that before too long I would be able to move my deltoids, which might lead to the functional recovery of my right arm. Perhaps I could learn to feed myself, and someday be able to drive a specially adapted car. My spirits rose.

In the third week of June I was visited by Dr. Marcalee Sipski, director of the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, New Jersey. My wife, Dana, and my younger brother, Benjamin, had surveyed rehab centers from Georgia to Colorado and concluded that Kessler was the best choice, because I would receive the highest quality care without having to go far from home. Dr. Sipski gave me a thorough examination and then told me point blank that my injury was "complete"-meaning that the cord had been severed at the second cervical vertebra (known as "C-2"). Signals from the brain would never be able to get past the injury site. Without any direction from above, the spinal cord would remain useless and the skin, muscles, bones, and tissues of my body would begin a steady progression of atrophy and decay. All I knew about the regeneration of cut or damaged nerves was that it was possible in the peripheral nervous system but not in the central nervous system.

I asked questions about the spinal cord and why the nerves inside it could not regenerate. Usually I had these conversations late at night with the residents and nurses on duty in the unit. (The days were filled with family, visitors, and the routines of necessary care.) Nobody claimed to know for certain, but the prevailing explanation was that it had to do with evolution. An animal paralyzed by a spinal cord injury would most likely be a ready-to-serve meal for another animal higher on the food chain. Even if nerve regeneration in the spinal cord was possible it couldn't happen quickly, so the injured animal would still be easy prey. Without medical intervention the victim of a spinal cord injury-animal or human-usually dies within hours or days, depending on the severity of the case. Almost every one of these late-night discussions ended with the conclusion that I should just consider myself lucky to be alive. I wasn't so sure.

Apparently no one in my little nighttime universe knew that a handful of scientists around the world had been investigating the possibility of regeneration in the spinal cord as early as the 1970s. In 1981 Dr. Alberto Aguayo, at McGill University in Montreal, using a cocktail of growth-enhancing chemicals, achieved regeneration and modest functional recovery in rats.

I only began to focus on spinal cord research in early September 1995. Until then my primary concern was survival, not only for me as a patient but for Dana and my three children, Matthew (fifteen), Alexandra (eleven), and Will (three). Their love and the love that flowed from my extended family, as well as from friends and even complete strangers all over the world, had saved me from my initial desire to end it all. In 2002, seven years after the accident and in the year of my fiftieth birthday, I look back with almost indescribable gratitude at the moment when Dana knelt by my bedside and said, "You're still you, and I love you."

Her simple but profound declaration became the basis for my autobiography, Still Me, which was published in 1998. But in describing that scene I never mentioned one critical detail: in response to my thoughts about ending my life, she said that we should wait for at least two years. Then, if I still felt the same, we could find a way to let me go. On one level, you could say she used the oldest selling technique in the book: you offer customers a free trial, a free sample, with no obligation and no money down, in order to get them on the hook. On another level, a much deeper one where our love and respect for each other has always lived, she knew that I was only in the first stage of a natural reaction to tragedy. Asking me to wait was the perfect course of action. She was giving me room, the freedom to make a choice, yet knowing what that choice would be in time.

The first decision flowed from Dana's words and the look on the faces of all three children when they came into my room. While Dana supported the option to reconsider the value of life at a point in the future, I could tell in an instant that the children wanted me to live and be there for them now. I consented to the surgery. I gave the doctors permission to suction secretions out of my lungs and use IV antibiotics to treat the pneumonia that otherwise would have caused my death. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I had chosen the path toward survival. Inner turmoil and the highs and lows caused by contradictory information would become the norm, but there would be no turning back.

First I had to learn to swallow. Even though I passed the test, the smell and taste of food were repulsive. A feeding tube was inserted into my stomach, and during the night a bagful of mocha-colored goop containing essential nutrients dripped down a long catheter into the site. Once a day a team of nurses and physical therapists transferred me into a wheelchair and pushed me down a corridor into the dayroom, where I could receive visitors and have someone in my family read letters to me for no more than thirty minutes. Then it was back to bed.

I couldn't believe how complicated this daily excursion was. First my head and neck had to be immobilized in a rigid cervical collar. Then Ace bandages were wrapped around most of my torso in order to keep my blood pressure from dropping when I sat up. Next a rigid sheet of plastic called a sliding board was positioned under my body; two nurses rolled me onto my side while two others slid the board into place. Before the transfer into the wheelchair I was gradually pushed up into a sitting position on the bed. My blood pressure was monitored every ninety seconds. Sometimes I would faint, which meant a ten- to fifteen-minute wait before another attempt. On a bad day it might take two or three tries. On a good day I could achieve sitting up with a stabilized blood pressure in about twenty minutes. When I could sit up without "crashing" we were ready for the big maneuver. The wheelchair was placed against the left side of the bed and its right arm removed. The bed was lowered to the level of the wheelchair. I lay flat again and my team of helpers carefully dragged the sliding board over to form a bridge between the wheelchair and the bed. The next step was sitting up again. If that was successful, I was gently placed in the chair and the board was taken away. After a few minutes of adjusting to being in the wheelchair, I was pushed down the corridor and into the dayroom.

As I started to face reality during the month in intensive care and six months in rehab, moments from my former life kept popping into my head. It was like a slide show, but the pictures were all out of sequence, as if they had been placed randomly in the projector. As a long plastic tube was inserted through my neck and pushed down into my lungs to remove accumulating fluid, suddenly I would be sailing in Maine. But before the next slide appeared on the screen in my mind, secretions were being suctioned up the tube. A moment or two later, Dana and I were making love; I was on a horse jumping over stone walls in the countryside; I was taking a curtain call after a performance in the theater, carrying boxes and lugging furniture up four flights of stairs into my first apartment in New York. Then it was four in the morning, and two aides had woken me up by turning me over onto my other side so that my skin wouldn't break down from lying in one position too long. Even though I was flipped from side to side every two hours at night for nearly three years after my injury, I almost never slept through it. More images flashed on the screen, usually snapshots of my most cherished memories when I was whole and healthy and free.

Psychologists came to the bedside, but their tone was often patronizing and I was usually relieved when they went away. I had to read the Spinal Cord Manual, which had little to say about patients with my level of injury. I had to choose a color for my new Sip-N-Puff wheelchair, which would allow me to drive by myself without being pushed. I had to locate a specially equipped accessible van with four-wheel drive, heavy-duty shock absorbers, and a mechanical lift. I had to approve plans for remodeling our house so that I could work, eat, and sleep all on one floor. There were dozens of other issues that had to be faced. Reality was now my new identity as a C-2 vent-dependent quadriplegic. My vision for the future prior to three o'clock on May 27, 1995, I now classified as what would have been a normal life. Everything after that instant I now had to accept as the new reality. Deep inside I was angry, and I probably still carry much of that anger with me today. But the critical factor was that in spite of myself, I was adjusting to my new life.

Dana's intuition about what my state of mind would be two years after the accident proved to be absolutely right: I was glad to be alive, not out of obligation to others, but because life was worth living. By May 27, 1997, we were settled in our bedroom in the new wing of our home north of New York City, having camped out in the dining room for more than six months. In the Gloaming, a film I directed for HBO, had premiered in late April and been warmly received by the critics and the public. I had become the spokesman for HealthExtras, a company based in Maryland that offers low-cost supplemental insurance to cover nonmedical expenses in the event of a catastrophic illness or disability. The American Paralysis Association, founded by Henry Stifel, Sr., in 1982 after his son Henry suffered a spinal cord injury at age seventeen, had now become the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Although it was still run by a small staff in a Springfield, New Jersey, office building, the annual research budget had grown from $300,000 to more than $3 million. I was healthy enough to accept speaking engagements around the country, even though the travel required private planes, three nurses, two aides, and a coordinator of logistics and accessibility.

Today I am probably busier than I was before the accident. I have to juggle physical therapy, my responsibilities at the foundation and as vice-chairman of the National Organization on Disability, writing, producing, directing, family, friends, travel, and much more. When people ask if I am disturbed by the fact that others pity me, I have to admit that the problem actually is that everyone seems to assume I can do almost anything.


From the Hardcover edition.
Christopher Reeve

About Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve - Nothing Is Impossible

Photo © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Actor, director and activist are just some of the words used to describe Christopher Reeve. From his first appearance at the Williamstown Theatre Festival at the age of 15, Reeve established a reputation as one of the country’s leading actors. However, ever since he was paralyzed in an equestrian competition in 1995, Reeve not only put a human face on spinal cord injury but he motivated neuroscientists around the world to conquer the most complex diseases of the brain and central nervous system.

After graduating from Cornell University in 1974, Reeve pursued his dream of acting, studying at Juilliard under the legendary John Houseman. He made his Broadway debut opposite Katharine Hepburn in A Matter of Gravity in 1976 and then went on to distinguish himself in a variety of stage, screen and television roles with passion. Film credits include: “Superman” in 1978 and its subsequent sequels, “Deathtrap,” “Somewhere in Time,” “The Bostonians,” “Street Smart,” “Speechless,” “Noises Off,” “Above Suspicion” and the Oscar-nominated “The Remains of the Day.” Stage credits include: The Marriage of Figaro, Fifth of July, My Life, Summer and Smoke, Love Letters and The Aspern Papers.

Reeve made his directorial debut with “In the Gloaming” on HBO in April 1997. The film was met with rave reviews, was nominated for five Emmys and won six Cable Ace Awards, including Best Dramatic Special and Best Director. Reeve’s autobiography, Still Me, was published by Random House in April 1998 and spent 11 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. His audio recording of Still Me earned Reeve a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album in February 1999. In his first major role since becoming paralyzed, Reeve starred in an updated version of the classic Hitchcock thriller “Rear Window,” for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries. He also served as Executive Producer of the film.

Reeve continued his directing work in television and film as well as his arts-advisory service as a board member of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. In early 2001, Reeve began combining his directing efforts with his activism when he directed four commercials featuring Ray Romano, Randy Newman, Toni Morrison and himself for Johnson & Johnson that focused on helping parents talk to their kids. The same year he filmed a spot for the American Red Cross that celebrated volunteerism.

In 1999, Reeve became the Chairman of the Board of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF). CRPF, a national, nonprofit organization, supports research to develop effective treatments and a cure for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and other central nervous system disorders. CRPF also allocates a portion of its resources to grants that improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

As Vice Chairman of the National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.), he worked on quality of life issues for the disabled. In partnership with Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, he helped pass the 1999 Work Incentives Improvement Act, which allows people with disabilities to return to work and still receive disability benefits. Reeve served on the Board of Directors of World T.E.A.M. Sports, a group that organizes and sponsors challenging sporting events for athletes with disabilities; TechHealth, a private company that assists in the relationship between patients and their insurance companies; and LIFE (Leaders in Furthering Education) a charitable organization that supports education and opportunities for the underserved population.

In addition to his work on behalf of CRPF, Reeve’s advocacy efforts included:

·Lobbying on behalf of the National Institutes of Health to double the NIH budget in five years. In part because of his leadership, the NIH budget grew from 12 billion dollars in 1998 to nearly 27.2 billion dollars in fiscal 2003;

·Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies in favor of federally funded stem cell research;

·Providing instrumental and crucial support for the passage of the New York State Spinal Cord Injury Research Bill (7287C), landmark legislation that makes available up to $8.5 million annually in funds collected from violations of the state’s motor vehicle laws to be appropriated among the leading research facilities in New York. Reeve was also involved in lobbying efforts for similar bills in New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia and California;

·Working tirelessly to obtain increased funding from both the public and private sectors to cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, ALS, stroke, as well as to repair the damaged spinal cord; and

·Helping to establish the Reeve-Irvine Research Center at the UCI College of Medicine. The center supports the study of trauma to the spinal cord and diseases affecting it, with an emphasis on the development of therapies to promote the recovery and repair of neurological function;

While Reeve raised public awareness about the significance of medical research and the challenges facing those with disabilities, he also educated families about the importance of having adequate health and disability coverage. In 1997, Reeve joined with HealthExtras, the first company to offer subscribers a tax-free non-accountable payment of 1 million dollars in the event of a permanent accidental disability. The cost of this policy is a mere $10 a month and is available through Visa, American Express or via the Internet. Reeve serves as company spokesman.

Reeve’s community and political involvement pre-dates his spinal cord injury. Over the course of many years, he served as a national spokesman on behalf of the arts, campaign finance reform and the environment. A founder and Co-President of The Creative Coalition he helped to create recycling in New York City and to persuade state legislature to set aside one billion dollars to protect the city’s water supply. Since 1976 he was actively involved with Save the Children, Amnesty International, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Environmental Air Force and America’s Watch. In 1987, he demonstrated in Santiago, Chile on behalf of 77 actors threatened with execution by the Pinochet regime. For this action, Reeve was given a special Obie Award in 1988 and the annual award from the Walter Briehl Human Rights Foundation.

His second book, Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life, was published by Random House in September 2002. The audio rendition of Nothing is Impossible garnered Reeve his second Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. At the same time, a documentary film about his advocacy and road to recovery entitled “Christopher Reeve: Courageous Steps” aired on ABC television in the United States. The documentary was directed by Reeve’s son Matthew and has been distributed around the world.

In September 2003, Reeve was awarded the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service in Support of Medical Research and the Health Sciences from the Lasker Foundation. Recognized for perceptive, sustained and heroic advocacy for medical research in general, and people living with disabilities in particular, Reeve was selected for this distinction by a jury of scholars and scientists.

In August 2004, Reeve completed directing his latest project, The Brooke Ellison Story. This fact-based A&E cable television movie, which will air October 25, 2004, is based on the book Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey. Brooke Ellison became a quadriplegic at age 11 but with determination and the support of her family, Ellison rose above her disability and went on to graduate from Harvard University. The film stars Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Lacey Chabert and John Slattery.

Christopher Reeve's last project before he died was with IDT Entertainment, directing an animated 3D CGI feature film. "Yankee Irving" the working title of the film, was close to his heart, following the story of a boy who overcomes obstacles to realize his potential.
Christopher Reeve died October 10, 2004 of heart failure. He was 52 years old. Reeve is survived by his mother Barbara Johnson and his father Franklin Reeve, his brother Benjamin Reeve, his wife Dana, their twelve year old son Will and his two children from a former relationship, Matthew (25) and Alexandra (21).
Praise

Praise

“GRACEFUL, PERSUASIVE . . . A reflective mixture of policy advocacy, personal philosophy and candid self-observation.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[A] SUPER SHOT OF INSPIRATION . . . REEVE’S CANDOR AND UNSELFISH NATURE ARE APPARENT IN EVERY PAGE.”
The Oklahoman

“MOVING . . . A GENTLE AND IMPRESSIVE MESSAGE FROM SOMEONE WHO REFUSES TO GIVE UP.”
—Deseret News

“This book may awaken in the reader a desire to find within oneself, one’s family and friends, and one’s higher power the hope and wherewithal to live life as though ‘nothing is impossible.’ ”
Quest magazine

“Reeve’s style is simple and genuine, you can feel his longing as you turn each page. . . . Nothing Is Impossible reminds us that life is not to be taken for granted—it should be embraced with passion, kindness and gratitude. . . . This is a potent message we have heard many times, but it’s the messenger who gives these words brimming resonance.”
Coral Gables Gazette (FL)

Nothing Is Impossible is written completely without either corrosive self-pity or false vanity. In many ways, it is a completely ordinary book—
and that may be its greatest strength.”
—Bookreporter.com

“Lovely . . . [Reeve’s] book, a manifesto for living life to the fullest, should be on everyone’s bedside table.”
Millbrook Round Table (NY)

  • Nothing Is Impossible by Christopher Reeve
  • April 27, 2004
  • Self Help; Religion - Inspirational
  • Ballantine Books
  • $7.99
  • 9780345470737

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