Superhero Flies To Israel
REHOVOT, ISRAEL--It was inspiration all around during Christopher Reeve's visit to Israel last week. He drew admiring, emotional crowds wherever he went--at the Western Wall, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, at hospitals where he visited terrorism victims and medical researchers. A cartoon in the daily Ha'aretz showed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon looking out his window on the plane to Washington, D.C., and seeing Superman in a wheelchair streaking over him in the opposite direction. "You are my hero," Elad Wassa, 26, paralyzed from the waist down in a suicide bombing, told Reeve during the actor's visit to Weizmann Institute of Science, where advanced research is being done on paralysis.
At Tel Hashomer Hospital, it was Reeve's turn to be impressed as he watched Hashem Mahamid, 32, paralyzed two years ago after falling off a roof, walk with the aid of parallel bars. Reeve called it the "most remarkable example of recovery from a severe spinal cord injury I've ever seen."
Stem cells. The actor and activist also made a broader point: He praised Israel for being one of the medically advanced nations where research using human embryonic stem cells--considered crucial to finding a cure for paralysis--is done without the kind of limitations imposed in the United States. The Weizmann Institute's Michal Schwartz, whose innovative treatment using immune cells, called macrophages, enabled Mahamid to begin walking, says her current research on paralysis focuses on stem cells.
Doctors tell Reeve his best chance for recovery most likely depends on developments involving both macrophages and stem cells. "My hope is that politics and religion will not interfere with progress toward a cure," he said. "I think that if those problems are overcome, then I stand a very good chance of walking again." But in the eyes of enthusiastic Israelis, who don't quibble over stem cells, he was already flying. -Larry Derfner
This story appears in the August 11, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.