Last week, my husband Laurence and I
visited Alyn hospital in Jerusalem, Israel’s only paediatric and
adolescent rehabilitation centre. We have a particular
connection to the hospital through the annual
Alyn sponsored bike ride, which Laurence helps to organise.
While we were there, we found out that Christopher Reeve — who was on
a four-day trip to Israel — was about to visit Alyn. Reeve has been almost
completely paralysed from the neck down after a riding accident in 1995.
He was in Israel to meet similarly injured Israelis, including victims of
terrorism, and to study the latest developments in spinal injury research.
Jewish and Arab patients are referred to the hospital from around the
country with a wide spectrum of diagnoses, ranging from congenital abnormalities
to muscular dystrophy and spinal cord injury. Alyn offers a full range of
rehabilitation services, utilising innovative techniques tailored to each
We stayed on to see Reeve, although I was asked not to approach him, notebook
in hand, as this was supposed to be a private visit. In fact, remarkable
images of the actor at Alyn remain so firmly etched in my mind that I don’t
need the benefit of notes to help me describe them.
He arrived in a special bus loaned by Bet Halochem, the social and sports
centre that provides services for wounded army veterans. The doors opened
and Reeve was lowered to ground level by means of a hydraulic
platform. I was reminded of a cartoon in last week’s Ha’aretz , which
showed a Washington-bound Ariel Sharon looking out of the aeroplane window
and seeing Superman Reeve flying in his wheelchair in the opposite direction.
Several young adult patients sat nearby in their wheelchairs to welcome
him, one sporting a Superman T-shirt, which brought a smile to the actor’s
face. “I’ve seen all Christopher Reeve’s movies,” one of the young men told
me. “It’s amazing that he has managed to come all the way to Israel to see
us. He’s such a great role model.”
I joined patients and their families in the respiratory rehabilitation
unit as they waited for Reeve to arrive on the first stage of his tour. A
nurse reminded us to turn off our mobile phones. The lady alongside me looked
towards a young teenager sitting in a wheelchair, and said: “It’s OK –
I can switch off my phone. My son is safely here in front of me.”
She explained that his paraplegia had been caused during an operation
to correct a heart defect. He was an in-patient at Alyn for several months
and now he lives at home, returning only for occasional extra
rehabilitation. “This is a wonderful place,” she said.
When Reeve arrived in the unit, he manoeuvred himself into the middle
of a group of patients. One of the most affecting moments came when Rahab,
a young Druze woman who sustained a fractured neck in a car accident seven
years ago, took a few steps and stood next to Reeve. After years of intensive
rehabilitation at Alyn, she is now off the respirator and can walk when aided.