During a one-hour visit to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and later that night in front of a packed ballroom, Christopher Reeve demonstrated the same energy that had distinguished the actor in public as a crusader for innovation in research and treatment of spinal-cord injuries.
"It was very moving to meet with him," says Elliot Roth, medical director of the institute, who led Reeve on a tour of a unit deploying programs funded by the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and to meetings with 10 patients and family members. "He was very dynamic, very engaging, talkative, seemed very pleased to be there," Roth says. That was Oct. 5. Four days later at his New York home, Reeve's heart stopped after a serious blood infection invaded his body. He was hospitalized but lapsed into a coma and died on Oct. 10 of heart failure. The 52-year-old had been getting treatment for a pressure ulcer, a common complication for people who are paralyzed. As it turned out, infections were a constant threat.
In an interview with Reader's Digest that was published in its October edition, Reeve disclosed "three bad life-threatening infections this year"-one a blood infection caused by an abrasion on his hip that developed into strep and started shutting down major organs. An-other infection happened in New Orleans a few days before he was to begin shooting a made-for-TV movie, "The Brooke Ellison Story," which he directed and will air on A&E on Oct. 25.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair since the May 1995 accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down, Reeve was a frequent speaker and was slated to deliver a closing speech, "Nothing is Impossible," to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society in Dallas on Feb. 17, 2005. In Chicago, he gave a 10-minute address at a gala marking the 50th anni- versary of the Rehabilita- tion Institute.
Earlier that day he watched a spinal-cord patient use a new robotic device that aids in the recovery of people with partial paralysis. Reeve's foundation helped fund the research on the device's benefits, one of three grants to the institute worth a total of $600,000, Roth says. It was the first time he had ever seen the machine, called a Lokomat. "He repeatedly said, `Wow,' " and was impressed by the institute's aggressive approach to getting patients to "be bold" and try to use the devices. "We, of course, are extremely gratified that he was able to see it before he died."
Snuffing out a bad habit
About 35 hospitals in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin will ban cigarette smoking anywhere on hospital property beginning Nov. 18, this year's date for the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout. Another hospital, Columbus (Ohio) Children's Hospital, may go one step further by banning smoking for employees anytime they're on shift, after implementing a no-smoking-on-campus ban earlier this year.
For Sister Mary Jean Ryan, chief executive officer of St. Louis-based SSM Health Care, seeing smokers standing around outside of hospital buildings was getting to be too much. "The image that people saw as they entered somehow ... could never ring true with what we're about," Ryan says. "There's something about our integrity (as a hospital) that is called into question by allowing this."
With Ryan's full support, about 200 employees in February began getting ready for the day when smoking will not be allowed. The program includes smoking cessation assistance and recommendations from smokers on how to make it work.
Hospitals in Oklahoma City decided to do the same thing. "It seemed like the right thing to do," says Bruce Lawrence, president of Integris Health and chief operating officer of its Integris Baptist Medical Center and Integris Southwest Medical Center. "We stand for health and this is the healthy thing to do," Lawrence says.
Enforcing the rules may not be easy. Columbus Children's went completely smoke-free in May but still has a few employees who step off campus to light up.
"That has given us pause," says Keith Goodwin, president and COO. As a result, by year-end the policy may be revised to ban smoking by employees anytime they're on shift, he says. "We're committed to the health of patients."
Getting in over their heads for charity
The Connecticut State Police Dive Team went underwater again to benefit Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford.
The team's 15 divers rode on a stationary bike the equivalent of more than 2,000 miles-the distance of the Tour de France-to raise some $11,000, twice the amount they raised last year, at the second annual event held at the Eastern States Fair in West Springfield, Mass., in September.
"Our divers need to be in great shape, so we thought this would be an excellent way for people to see firsthand how we operate underwater, and at the same time, raise funds for charity," said David Brundage, the team's dive master and organizer of the event, in a news release.
Of course, they don't normally operate on stationary Schwinn bikes while submerged in a 3,000-gallon tank of water, but all 15 members were around to answer questions about their operations when they weren't rotating two-hour shifts in scuba gear.
"Although our equipment is made for less humid conditions, we're glad to see our stationary bike endure under this usage," says Buzz Truitt, a vice president of Schwinn Fitness products for Nautilus, which donated the bike.