Hope Happens Here: Allen Rucker

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on July 01, 2020 # Hope Happens Here: 25 Stories

I became paralyzed from the neuroimmune disorder, transverse myelitis, about eighteen months after Christopher Reeve had his terrible accident. At that time, he was in the news virtually every day, talking to Barbara Walters in primetime, badgering Congress for more money for medical research, or announcing his next acting or directing role. In my hospital room, he was constantly popping up on TV. I admired him greatly but didn’t initially look to him for guidance. My neurologist had told me there was a fighting chance I would recover, either fully or partially, when the inflammation in my back subsided. I was clinging to that hope.Allen Rucker poolside

Out of the hospital and wheelchair-savvy, I went back to my profession, writing, and was invited to write some interesting TV projects. Though I tried my best, my heart wasn’t into it. Then I got a call from legendary TV producer, Don Mischer. Would I be interested in co-writing an upcoming ABC variety special in honor of Christopher Reeve? “Hell yeah, let me roll right over there.” The timing was perfect.

The special, called “Christopher Reeve: A Celebration of Hope,” featured a cavalcade of stars – Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Gloria Estefan, John Lithgow, and on and on. The day of the rehearsal, as I was waiting to meet Christopher and Dana for the first time, Robin Williams, Chris’s close friend and the host of the show, found me sitting alone in the auditorium and dropped by to chat. I remember that he never mentioned my paralysis during the whole conversation.

Later on, as I was watching the live show from behind the curtain at the side of the stage, Robin came sneaking up behind me between acts, whispered “Showtime!,” grabbed my chair and started pushing me on stage. I froze. I had no doubt that he was going to roll me out in front of a TV audience of millions, just for fun. He stopped right at the edge of the curtain, gave me a big laugh and grin, and walked out alone to do his job. It was the first time anyone had ever goofed with me in my chair.

Christopher and Dana couldn’t have been nicer through the whole ordeal. Dana sang a beautiful song on stage and Christopher closed the show with a very moving speech. Afterwards, as I sat talking to them, both were excited to tell me about a new therapy Christopher had just started at UCLA. It was called Locomotor Training, a strenuous treadmill workout to see if paralyzed legs could “learn” to walk again. Dana gave me a name and number to call. They thought I was perfect for it. Allen Rucker

The woman at UCLA was equally enthusiastic, but said I had to meet face to face with a resident rehab physician before I could start the training. I met this doctor, whose name I have conveniently forgotten, and handed him an MRI of my spine I had retrieved from my hospital. As he examined it under light, he was almost laughing. “You aren’t a candidate for this program, not by a long shot. Your lesion is way too low on your spine!”

As I was absorbing that blow, he added, in a nonchalant manner, “Oh, and you’ll never walk again.”

I was crushed and remembered shaking all the way home. But, from that moment on, I felt like the chronic despair I had lived with for over a year was slowly beginning to dissipate. Seeing Christopher and Dana dealing with his much worse condition with resolve and aplomb, being subject to Robins’ prank, and learning the hard truth of my condition were all instrumental in my eventual escape from self-pity and bitterness.

Thank you, Christopher and Dana, for leading me back to a renewed grip on life.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.