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Decubitus Ulcers Were Superman’s Kryptonite

Ulcers that are like Superman's KryptoniteIt is hard to imagine it has already been 10 years since Christopher Reeve died. The handsome leading actor who brought the cartoon comic adventure hero Superman to the big screen suffered injuries when he fell from a horse in 1995, finally succumbing in 2004.

As an accomplished horseman, the actor had been riding since 1985 and had participated in various equestrian competitions for years. Reeve was injured in his last equestrian dressage event, when his horse failed to jump a barrier during the competition. The actor was thrown over the horse, landing on the top rail of the barrier.

After waking up in the hospital a few days later, Reeve was informed by his doctors that the accident destroyed both the first and second vertebrae in his spine. This meant that the actor’s spinal column was no longer connected to the skull. As a result of the accident, Christopher spent his remaining years bound to a wheelchair without the capacity to perform any action from the neck down.

Finding Superman

In search of the perfect male to play the iconic Superman figure, the producers of the film considered more than 200 actors to fill the leading role. Christopher Reeve’s haunting blue eyes, square jaw and tall stance at over six foot four inches clinched him the leading role as the man of steel. While he would appear on the big screen throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he would be forever linked to Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent.

The Death of Superman

To say the least, the effects of the equestrian accident profoundly changed nearly every aspect of Reeve’s life. He was either wheelchair-bound or bedridden and continuously at the mercy of family, friends and health care providers for nearly every need. He spent nearly a decade determined to prove he could walk again, and focused on a variety of campaigns to raise money and awareness for stem cell research that could change the course of paralysis and other disabilities.

While nothing could cause harm to the cinematic superhero except for kryptonite, what eventually killed Reeve was a much different problem. On a variety of occasions, Christopher fought serious life threatening infections. However, by early of October 2004, the inspiring actor that had played the role of Superman in four films suffered a heart attack. This was in response to an antibiotic given to him to treat an infected decubitus ulcer. He succumbed that same month at 52 years old.

Decubitus Ulcers

A decubitus ulcer is another medical term for bedsores, pressure sores and pressure ulcers. The ulcer appears as an open wound on the skin usually on bony areas including the hips, ankles, back, buttocks, shoulders, elbows, and the back of the legs, arms and head. Caused by pressure, the ulcer is formed when blood flow is restricted to the area of skin. Without attention, the area can be deprived of oxygen and nutrients, causing the skin to die within hours. Typically, the bedsore will begin to ulcerate, and if left with untreated, will eventually cause damage to muscles and exposed bone.

A decubitus ulcer requires immediate treatment. When the condition is stopped in its early stages (stage I and stage II) the area will typically heal completely. However, if allowed to progress to stage III or stage IV, the condition can rapidly compromise the health of the patient, and potentially cause death.

In addition to being susceptible to a heart attack, as in Christopher Reeve’s case, there are other complications a decubitus ulcer can develop, including:

  • Sepsis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Malignant transformation
  • Urethral fistula
  • Anemia
  • Amyloidosis
  • Pyathrosis
  • Autonomic dysreflexia

Before the condition has the chance to advance, it is essential to relieve pressure on the area of skin that is affected. In addition, it is crucial to contact the doctor at the first noticeable symptoms or signs of a bedsore. Often times, the early stages present themselves as a shallow wound that is red or pink in color, which may be a blister, either ruptured or filled with fluid.

In nearly every case, a pressure sore is painful, tender, soft, warm or cool to the touch. With proper treatment, especially in the early stages, decubitus ulcers do not have to be the patient’s kryptonite, leading to their demise.