Don’t you love when synchronicity hits? You’re thinking of someone and they call later that day. Maybe your husband comes home and announces he would like to go see a certain movie, one that you just bought tickets for. Those little moments in life when it seems like we have been sprinkled with fairy dust in order for something wonderful to happen.
Just this week I was thinking about my late friend, Christopher Reeve. His birthday is this Sunday, September 25. I was reminiscing about so many great times and the wisdom he and his late wife, Dana, shared with me on my morning walk. When I got home, I found an email from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation asking supporters, advocates, volunteers, researchers and ambassadors of the Reeve Foundation to shared stories of how the Reeve Foundation made a difference in their lives. It also just so happens to be Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. The stars were definitely aligning. I gave this question some thought and came up with two ways, one personal the other professionally, as a nurse.
On a personal note, I met the Reeve’s after I had moved in to a little cottage next door to their home in Bedford, NY. I didn’t know the home across the pond was theirs. At the time I was trying to recover from complicated grief after the loss of three significant family members the year before. We had just sold our family home, another secondary loss.
As I made my morning coffee each day, I looked out over the paddocks where the farm animals grazed and I would often see Chris’s big black van jet down the driveway, Dana often at the wheel. The fact that they got up each day and stayed active made me realize, alone at my pity party, that at least I can walk.
I began walking. Around the neighborhood at first, then eventually local trails, many of which Chris and Dana once rode horses on. It was their dog, Chamois, appropriately named for her soft creamy white fur, who introduced us. The curious Labrador stole one of my mittens while I was tying my ice skates as Dana and her son were skating on the frozen pond. A friendship that lasted for four years began that day and Chamois started joining me on my long walks. Chris and Dana shared a mutual understanding of loss, but we also shared a lot of laughs and support to live the best life we could despite what we missed. We enjoyed nature, gardening together and comparing what we noticed outside our windows.
As a nurse, Chris’s resolve and belief that a cure could be found for paralysis due to spinal cord injury was the ultimate example of where there is a will, there is a way. I had worked with people living with paralysis for thirteen years before I met Chris. I knew of the days when no one talked about hoping for a cure. Patients either accepted their situation and made the best of it or died of despair. I cared for a man who literally let himself rot to death despite being surrounded by people who wanted to help him. Chris changed all that by being audacious enough to believe there could be a cure. I watched as he participated in various modalities being tested. I often joked that he was in better shape than me as he worked out rigorously every morning. The best part is that today, there really is change due to that hope.
Today, thanks to a breakthrough using epidural stimulation, four young men can move again and have restored many bodily functions. The research is now expanding on this. Take a look at Chris and Dana’s son, Will, explain details of this new treatment in this video.
So was it serendipity that made brought all these ideas together? Or was it, perhaps, Chris’s spirit whispering to us to keep going forward? For those of us who knew Chris, and how intensely powerful his spirit was/is, coupled with how dedicated he was to finding a cure, we probably wouldn’t be surprised if it were the latter.
Susan Allison-Dean is an ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. To learn more or to donate, please visit https://www.christopherreeve.org