Posted: May 25th, 2022

The Magazine of the Unitarian Universalist

Christopher Reeve Case Study

Christopher Reeve was one of the most famous actors of the late 1970s and 1980s. He will forever be known as the big screen Superman. To most people, Reeve was synonymous with the character. This made it all the more shocking when he was injured severely in a horse riding accident in 1995 which cost him the use of his legs amongst other horrific injuries. Rather than let this destroy his life, the accident ultimately determined Reeve’s legacy as he became an advocate for the rights of the disabled.

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What neurological disorder, disease, or accident took place to interrupt the individual’s ability?

On May 27, 1995 Christopher Reeve was riding his horse Buck and was attempting to jump a fence, something he had done many times before. Reeves had been an experience rider and had no reason to suspect any negative effects. The horse made a refusal and stopped moving, sending Reeve over the fence. According to reports, he landed head first, with all 215 pounds of his body bearing down on him (Reeve 1998,-page 19). Fortunately he was wearing a helmet and did no damage to his brain; however he sustained a cervical spinal injury, shattering both the first and second vertebrae, totally paralyzing the actor from the neck down.

2. What behaviors were exhibited by this individual following the disorder, disease, or accident?

Immediately after the accident Christopher Reeve was highly depressed and even considered suicide. In an interview with the Washington Post, Reeve said, “The thought that kept going through my mind was: I’ve ruined my live. I’ve ruined my life, and you only get oneI’m an idiot. I’ve spoiled everything” (Crews 1998). However, during his recovery, Reeve went through physical therapy and psychological treatment wherein he determined to overcome the odds and live happily. His dedication to his own health also led to his becoming an activist, both for people with spinal injuries and then in support of stem cell research which has the potential to further recover people like him with severe spinal injuries.

3. What were the individual’s deficits as a result of this disorder, disease, or accident?

Following the accident, Christopher Reeve went from an able-bodied and highly athletic person to a man confined to a wheelchair which could only be moved by blowing air into a pipe. He was completely paralyzed from the neck down and had issues with protein levels and had low levels of hemoglobin in his body. It is believed that his injuries diminished his immune system (Hall 2005). Doctors report that he developed a pressure ulcer which was causing sepsis and had several infections which were attributed to his bone marrow. His constant need for antibiotics eventually harmed his organs and he died of cardiac arrest. Many believe the negative reaction to the medication led to the heart attack.

4. What treatments did the individual seek? Were any available at the time?

Reeve had to have a major operation a few days after his accident to replace the shattered vertebrae through artificial means. After his operation, he was put through physical rehabilitation and occupational therapy. Eventually he was able to move his wrist, fingers, and feet (Hecht & Hecht 2004). He could also breathe without assistance for up to 90 minutes. Intense physical therapy continued throughout the remainder of his life. Other treatments he received included: weight-bearing exercises, calcium supplements, and medication to reverse osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones which happens frequently to paraplegics.

Reeve sought further means of overcoming his disability, particularly with stem cell research. In this therapy, embryonic stem cells or, less often, adult stem cells are introduced to the damaged body which and allows the body to regenerate damaged tissue. It has been shown to help patients with spinal injuries like Reeve’s as well as conditions like Parkinson’s.

5. What are the research implications of the case study? How did this help scientists and doctors better understand the disorder or disease? How did this case help scientists and doctors better understand how the brain works?

Reeve was one of the most prominent people to bring attention to the issues of spinal injuries and of the negative repercussions for patients when insurance companies dictate treatment. His amazing rehabilitation and progress showed the scientific community what people could overcome provided they had the equipment and the dedication to do so. Although the injury in question was not one associated with the brain itself, the nervous system was involved in Reeve’s injury. Wearing a helmet prevented him from doing brain damage. The research that the Christopher Reeve Foundation has conducted and supported has shown the effects of stem cells on spinal injuries and other neurological conditions (Reeve 2009).


Christopher Reeve’s accident shows the important of continued stem cell research. Working with scientists in both Israel and the United States, he tried to make the government see what could be done for paralyzed people like himself through the use of stem cells. The Israeli government has less interference in its scientific research because of socialized medicine which eliminates the issue of profit margin which in the United States can be a severe hindrance in research. If there is seen to be more profit in treating a condition than in curing it, the pharmaceutical company and other components of the healthcare industry will be more likely to try to block furthering successful research.

Works Cited

Crews, C. (1998, May 3). The role he can’t escape. Washington Post. Washington Post


Hall, F. (2005). Christopher Reeve. UU World: The Magazine of the Unitarian Universalist


Hecht, B.K. & Hecht, F. (2004). Christopher Reeve and spinal cord injury. Medicine Net.

Reeve, C. (1998). Still Me. Random House: New York, NY.

Reeve Foundation. (2009). Retrieved from

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