Reeve’s Legacy Lives On at UCI

On Oct. 18, researchers, professors and representatives from different paralytic research foundations such as the Reed Fund and the Paralysis Fund of America, gathered at UCI’s Reeve-Irvine Research Center to share their fond memories of Christopher Reeve, whose inspirational life story inspired the creation of the research center.
The Reeve-Smith Research Center is located in the College of Medicine and is dedicated to studying injuries and diseases of the spinal cord that result from paralysis or other loss of neurologic functions.
Oswald Steward, director of the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, began the ceremony by saying that the event was a celebration of Reeve’s life and accomplishments instead of a traditional memorial. He also reminisced about his memories of Reeve, remembering his constant upbeat attitude.
‘I’ve never been with Chris when we didn’t smile or laugh a little bit,’ Steward said.
Steward also said that the ceremony wouldn’t be a tribute to Reeve if it did not address issues that Reeve was strongly attached to: science and politics. Throughout the ceremony, various speakers talked about the pressing need to support initiatives and scientific efforts to find cures for many spinal cord diseases.
Joan Irvine-Smith, philanthropist and equestrian, whose great-grandfather owned all of the la from which the city and UC Irvine are named after, spoke about how she decided to take the initiative to start the Reeve-Irvine Center in UCI.
‘In 1995, after Chris’ accident, he was interviewed and I was impressed that he could communicate so beautifully as an icon for spinal research,’ Smith said.
An avid equestrian like Reeve, Smith was very touched by the fact that Reeve never blamed his horse for the accident.
However, the process of converting Smith’s idea of using Reeve’s name for the center and working together with him to fund it got off to a rocky start since Reeve had never heard of Smith nor UC Irvine.
Maura Hofstader, director of education and the scientific liaison for the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, explained how Smith finally got Reeve’s attention.
‘[Smith] contacted his group and said that she wanted to make a matching gift of several million dollars to start a research center and wanted [Reeve] to be part of it,’ Hofstader said. ‘Then they thought, ‘Crackpot,’ and put her request in the crackpot pile. Then one of his people looked into it and found out that [Smith] was a wonderful philanthropist and that UCI was a very good school, a top school. He and [Smith] got together and the Reeve-Irvine Center was born.’
Reeve had his doubts because he didn’t think he was physically capable of taking on such an important role and responsibility in the center. But during the planning stages of the center, Smith reassured him, ‘You played Superman, now you can be Superman.’
As a result of efforts made by Smith and Reeve, the faculty of the Reeve-Irvine Center are making milestones in the field of spinal cord research and looking to find a cure for spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
Aileen Anderson, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation in the Reeve-Irvine Center, described the main agenda of the center and its focus of research.
‘We study two aspects of spinal cord injury