NEW YORK (CBS) – It was four years ago this week that Christopher Reeve passed away after a long and valiant battle with his spinal cord injury. During that time he recovered a remarkable amount of function through a unique form of therapy that his foundation is now making available to other paralysis victims.
David Schlossberg is a very talented pianist, which is even more remarkable considering the shape he was in after his car was slammed by a drunk driver 3.5 years ago. “I was on a stretcher. I couldn’t move anything below my waist. I was a mess. I, I couldn’t do anything. I was in a lot of pain,” he said.
Today David is walking without leg braces and leading an independent life. What helped him in his remarkable recovery is a highly specialized form of Physical Therapy called locomotor training. Trained therapists move the legs to simulate walking while the patient is suspended in harness above a treadmill. The theory is that this wakes up dormant nerve pathways in the spinal cord.
“It’s like changing neurons on the spinal cord and the result is you that get an increase in function or you get an improvement in function,” explained Dr. Gail Forrest from the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute.
Locomotor training was pioneered by Christopher Reeve and his doctors. It was his challenge to the foundation that bears his and his wife Dana’s names to make the therapy more widely available. Now a grant from the CDC and the Chistopher and Dana Reeve Foundation has formed the Neurorecovery Network offering the therapy at nine sites around the country.
“We have seen everything from the extreme, where people actually gain the ability to walk, to changes in health outcome, blood pressure, bone density, blood flow,” said Susan Howley from the Foundation.
Donna Lowich had seen her progress plateau 20 years after her spinal cord injury until she began this program. Now she can get into and out of her car on her own and just feels better all around. “It is almost like a wake-up call. Things are waking up and I’m like: ‘I remember how to do this’. It’s amazing. It’s an amazing program.”
“It has given me a lot of hope. It has given confidence to do things that I never would’ve thought I could do,” David said.
Reporting for CBS WCBSTV
Dr. Max Gomez