In the eight years since his accident, Reeve has never been able to be more than 30 seconds away from a nurse. Though he shares a room and bed with his wife, Dana, the risks with the diaphragm pacemaker are so great that he still requires constant monitoring. Privacy is minimal.
"It kind of disrupts the romance a little bit," Reeve said.
While the experimental surgery hasn't given Reeve any more privacy, the "emotional relief" it has given him "is tremendous," he said.
"It gives me a sense of one more piece of the puzzle being solved, because a spinal chord injury affects every system in the body, bladder, bowels, sexual function, everything. So, the more and more that you can get some systems back — like the ability to breathe as normal — just makes you feel that you're moving forward."
Reeve is still pursuing his ultimate goal — to walk again. "I still think I will. I'm not sure when it's going to happen," he said.
As he has all along, Reeve continues to work tirelessly on behalf of millions struggling with incurable diseases or disabilities. This fall he received the Lasker Award for heroic advocacy for medical research, the scientific community's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
In spite of considerable obstacles, he's begun to travel the world on behalf of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which offers more than $13 million in grants each year. Reeve plans to appear at a Nov. 24 fund-raiser for the foundation in New York, at which he will speak without the ventilator.
The medical progress he sees physicians making in countries around the globe inspires Reeve. But it also frustrates him, because he feels many researchers in America aren't pursuing experimental treatments as aggressively as he'd like.
On a recent visit to Israel, Reeve was profoundly affected by the work of Dr. Michal Schwartz, who has implanted a special type of blood cell into the spinal cords of acutely injured patients within 14 days of their accidents.
"The one that was stunning to me was the 30-year-old who two years ago was shot and his spinal chord was completely severed, which is much worse than my injury. And when I met him in July he's walking," Reeve said.
Reeve said this sort of experimental treatment isn't conducted in the United States. "It's because we're too timid. We have a lot of researchers who kind of make a career out of research sometimes. They're not as bold as they could be, and that really has to change."
Reeve acknowledges that some criticize him for being in a state of denial or giving other paralysis sufferers false hope that they may walk again. But he remains undaunted. "I would point to the case of what Dr. Schwartz has done in Israel," he said.
"That's not false hope, that's something that actually happened. We're about to lose our pre-eminence in science and medicine. We've got to come to the rescue. We've got to solve these problems."
Reeve says dealing with his injury hasn't gotten any easier with the passage of time. "I would say it gets harder. I operate on two levels. I mean, I'm able to accept my situation, and to really work with it. And to make the best of it. That's in my nature. But I also realize I'm getting older. I'm 51 and time is ticking," he said. "So the more time goes by, the more I feel a sense of urgency. And, I can accept anything, except for, complacency."