Anyone watching the September broadcast of ABC’s documentary Christopher Reeve Courageous Steps was able to see “Superman” in one of his best roles yet. Seven years after suffering a spinal cord injury that left him with almost no function at all, he is experiencing what many persons with disabilities only dream of. Through an extensive and intensive (and no doubt, expensive) program of physical and electrical therapy, he has apparently regained a small amount of movement in his hands and legs along with claiming a fair amount of sensation throughout his body.
It was incredible to see someone with such a severe injury get movement back after seven years. We not only saw him move his finger on command, but when he was in the swimming pool he was able to move his legs in spite of having five-pound weights attached. On top of that, when supported by a harness in the pool he was actually able to take a few small steps with minimal assistance.
This return of function is attributed to his therapeutic regimen, but Reeve himself is quick to point out that the source of a complete cure still lies in the biologic repair of the damage done to his spinal cord. This is evidenced by his continual push for government funding of embryonic stem cell and therapeutic cloning research. He has appeared before Congress numerous times to influence current legislation regarding stem cell research.
We at the Spinal Cord Society (SCS) couldn’t agree more with Reeve’s actions on this last point. Two of our members were interviewed by Channel 5 news in conjunction with the Courageous Steps program. Unfortunately, the reporter failed to give us adequate credibility by not acknowledging our connection with SCS and the fact that we have been deeply involved in cure research for a long time. In the interview, we stressed the fact that while a therapy program may be a useful tool, it still doesn’t address the root of the problem. At best it is just an adjunct to the real work of repairing the cord.
Fixing the damage is where Christopher Reeve, and everyone else searching for a cure, should be putting all of their time and money. Therapy and other types of care may have beneficial effects, but we know that repairing the cord is the one thing that will bring about a cure. This will benefit millions with spinal cord injury as well as those with other central nervous system disorders.
As Dr. Chuck Carson, founder of SCS, once said: “To the uninformed, curing spinal cord injury looks like a big job, almost ‘impossible.’ But so have many other things in the past: moon rockets, atomic power, and once upon a time probably the wheel.”
So take heart, because great strides are being made in this area. From studying stem cells and olfactory ensheathing cells to blocking growth inhibitors and building matrix bridges, we are steadily finding the tools we need to make cure a reality. What was once deemed impossible could now be just a few years away.
We at SCS, with over 200 chapters around the world, know this because since 1978 we have been a driving force in the cure process. We have learned some valuable lessons, which most others have yet to realize. One is: don’t expect cure to come from the government as they will never be able to single out spinal cord injury as a priority case. Another is: don’t just put yourself in the hands of the researchers and hope they have the same integrity and sense of urgency that you do.
Most importantly, if cure is your objective, then it must be your only objective. That’s why our motto is: “CURE NOT CARE!” It emphasizes the single goal that we’re out to achieve. It also tells our donors that, unlike Reeve and the others, none of our money is diverted into care issues. Care is important, yes, and there are lots of organizations providing care services, but at some point we need to bite the bullet and do what is necessary to find a cure.
At SCS we’ve finally been able to address all these problems with the opening of our own independent research lab. There our researchers are able to concentrate solely on spinal cord injury cure research without the distractions and competing agendas of universities or other multipurpose research facilities.
We also know that it’s up to us, the spinal cord injured, to push the envelope for a cure. Most of us don’t have the resources of Christopher Reeve, and we’ll never get to appear before Congress, but each of us can do something and if we work together that adds up to a lot. If we don’t, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
Does this make sense to you? If it does, we’d love to have you come join us. SCS is the place where what you can do will make a difference. After all, what could ultimately be more important to you than a cure?
It’s your cause, it’s your future, it’s your life and you don’t have to be Superman to do it.
The Twin Cities Spinal Cord Society can be reached at 651-690-5011. Or visit http://users.aol.com/scsweb/index.htm.