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Superman stamp in real life

Tel Aviv, July 30 (AFP): Patients at Tel Hashomer rehabilitation centre in Israel had no time for Superman, only for Christopher Reeve, arguably the world’s most famous disabled man and now an ambassador for scientific research.

The pictures some of the patients in this hospital near Tel Aviv have pinned up above their beds are not of the caped wonder but of the 50-year-old, balding and wheelchair-bound paraplegic who stunned the medical world this year by recovering some sensation in his body. “I was once told I would never move below my shoulders,” Reeve told 50 patients and their families during a visit yesterday.

The actor, who also starred in Deathtrap and Remains of the Day, was paralysed from the neck down in 1995 after a horse riding accident.

“But I began to get motor and sensor recovery five years after the injury,” he told them. “The point is that there is no such thing as conventional wisdom anymore and nobody, no patient can be told by any doctor what the future will be.”

Reeve’s visit to Israel, sponsored by the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles and the foreign ministry, was eagerly awaited by many young Israelis and by one of them maybe more than others.

The actor’s trip was prompted by his correspondence with Elad Wassa, a 25-year-old Israeli-Ethiopian who was crippled by a Palestinian suicide attack in the coastal town of Netanya in May 2002. “You are my hero,” the young man told Reeve after an emotional meeting at the Weizmann institute, which employs some of the world’s leading neurology experts.

But at the Tel Hashomer hospital, the first to arrive to catch a glimpse of her idol was a 23-year-old Israeli who reads everything she can on the evolution of Reeve’s health and even set up a website with links to related articles. “At the age of 15, I was affected by a rare syndrome which touched my nervous system and left me quadriplegic. Half a year later, Christopher Reeve was wounded and I identified with his situation,” she said. “I tried to contact him ever since because we became like soul mates, I felt our lives were developing in parallel.”

Few paraplegics who suffer similar injuries could sustain the level of activity which has been Reeve’s, but the former actor, who chairs a scientific research institute in the US, shared experiences and tips to give hope to other disabled people.

“I can go comfortably as long as nine hours at a time, breathing on my own and I can talk normally,” he told another patient, who was injured, although more lightly than Reeve, in one of the latest bus bombs in Jerusalem.

“Christopher Reeve really is Superman not because of what he did on the silver screen, but because of what he is doing now,” said Dan Berk, a representative from the consulate in Los Angeles.

“He has full days and has a life, and his visit is also important because he has enormous moral authority.”

In the same way that the films which made Reeve famous was not once mentioned in his meetings with patients and experts, the conflict which brought many of his young admirers to this hospital was also absent from their conversations.

Calling for collaboration between scientists around the world, Reeve said: "I hope politics and religion will never interfere in this progress."

In the lobby of the rehabilitation centre, Palestinian Hussein Soboh regrets his 23-year-old daughter, fighting to save her nervous system after being shot by Israeli soldiers in southern Gaza last May, did not get to meet Reeve.

"What he is doing is very good and I will ask if Superman can come to Gaza next year."

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