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Byline: RYAN PARRY US Correspondent in New York

EVEN as her life slipped away, Dana Reeve had one last courageous act to perform. The widow of Superman star Christopher had to decide who would care for their only son - who would become an orphan within days.

Dana, a non-smoker who suddenly lost her battle against lung cancer in March of this year at the age of 44, had a tough choice to make over the future of 13-year-old Will.

And in a heartbreaking decision, made just before her death, she ruled that he would be better off brought up in familiar surroundings, rather than being uprooted and sent to live with his surviving relatives.

Now, as the Daily Mirror can reveal, Will is being raised by the family's neighbours in Bedford, New York State.

The couple, who have two teenage children of their own, were close friends of Christopher and Dana and have agreed to bring up Will in the community where he's already well-loved and following in his famous dad's acting footsteps.

Dana's father, 72-year-old Dr Charles Morisini who lives in New Hampshire, believes his daughter made the best possible decision for his grandson.

The retired cardiologist says: "Will will be very well looked after. Dana picked friends to look after him, everybody was very happy with that.

"They have a boy who is a year older than Will, they are very close friends, and they also have a 17-year-old girl. He's now got a brother and sister and is able to go to the same school and carry on how he was - same neighbourhood, same friends."

Charles says that the family haven't formally adopted him but have taken over as guardians.

He adds: "They have been designated his guardians. It probably lasts until he's out of college, at least until he's 21. It's legal, they have all the rights of parents, they are close family friends. Will is doing very well, fantastic."

So far in his young life, Will has endured one misfortune after another. He was a tot when his famous father was left paralysed after a horse-riding accident near Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1995. And only 11 when Christopher died, aged 52, in October 2004.

A few months later, Will lost his maternal grandmother, Helen Morisini, who died of complications following cancer surgery at the age of 71. Then this year came the cruellest blow of all with the death of his own mum, Dana.

The whole family came together to comfort Will afterwards and he was pictured proudly smiling through his grief at a memorial service for Dana four weeks after her death.

It was clear that, along with his father's good looks, Will had also inherited his grace, strength and resilience. This has been evident from a young age - rather than moan about all the attention his mother had to give his disabled dad, he helped her care for him.

That forged a very strong bond between him and his mother. Although he adored his father - Christopher in his wheelchair was a familiar sight supporting Will playing hockey for Westchester Express - he and Dana had their own special bond.

"I remember her singing to Will before he went to sleep until just a couple of years ago," recalls Dana's older sister, Dr Deborah Huschle, 47.

"There was definitely a celebratory quality in their raising of him. They were very tight. They had to stick together from a very early point."

Because he is now living with his former neighbours, Will can still attend his old school - Rippowam- Cisqua School in Bedford. There he has already appeared in school plays, fuelling his aspirations of one day becoming an actor, like his parents.

His paternal grandmother, Barbara Johnson, tells us: "Will has been performing in the musical Hello Dolly at school.

"All of us at different times went to see him perform. The Morisinis went one night and I went another night, and it was wonderful. He was wonderful. Hello Dolly has been on Broadway and he had a lead part, he's doing very well.

"We are all encouraged by the family he's living with. He's with a boy he's been good friends with since he was little, they were neighbours. Since Dana's death everyone is doing very well."

He may have lost both parents, but there will be no lack of love in Will's life. He is close to his adult step-siblings - Matthew, a London filmmaker, and Alexandra, a law student - from Christopher's eariler relationship with Gae Exton, who were by his side at Dana's memorial.

"There's an embrace of family around Will," says Dana's friend Peter Kiernan. "The first circle is Matthew and Alexandra and obviously he now has a new family who will love him."

DESPITE his debilitating condition, Christo-also set the wheels in motion for to be looked after when he'd gone.

In a will made in 2003, a year before his death, Reeve wrote: "If Dana shall fail for any reason to qualify as such Guardian hereunder, then I appoint my friends Robert Fraiman Jr. and Nancy Fraiman."

When the Mirror spoke to the Fraimans, who live just six miles from the Reeves' home, they confirmed that it isn't them who have taken over as Will's guardians.

Mrs Fraiman says: "We were mentioned in Christopher's will initially, but Dana wanted to place Will with a family where there were boys. All I can tell you is Will is doing amazingly well. He's absolutely superb. He's one of the most resilient, cheery, sunny, fabulous creatures you've ever met.

"He's an amazing child. It makes total sense for him to be with close friends with a child of a similar age. It was a very wise decision."

If anything, securing Will's future as her health deteriorated rapidly was one of Dana's greatest achievements - and there were many.

The actress and singer won the admiration of millions worldwide as she lovingly cared for Chris from his riding accident until his death. He once said that it was Dana's support that kept him from choosing death over life on a respirator.

She became a tireless campaigner for stem cell research as chair of the Christopher Reeve Foundation - which Chris set up to fund research into spinal injuries - in the hope that she could alleviate his condition.

And when he died, Dana continued with his work by raising millions to benefit future research.

Her father Charles recalls Dana's tireless fighting spirit which gave her strength up until her final moments.

"She was in high spirits to the end," he says. "She died about 10 o'clock, everybody was there, her whole family. It was a very quiet passing which gives you some comfort."

In fact, there was one notable absence at her bedside. "Will was not there, he didn't have the stomach for it," adds Charles. "Dana was very, very sick. Two weeks before she died she was pretty good and then one thing led to another and it was terrible.

"It was a rapid decline. It was the way the tumour grew, it wasn't that much bigger but it grew into her vessels.

"The cancer was in recession but her lungs filled with fluid and she just went down. It took everybody by surprise."

Now, thanks to his mum, Will has a new family to care for him in the place where he grew up and calls home. And as he enters the ninth grade in school this summer everyone hopes he can continue to lead as normal a life as possible.

It was a wise decision of Dana's to place Will with closefriends


HAPPY MEMORIES: Will with mum Dana and dad Christopher' DANA'S MEMORIAL: Will with Alexandra and Matthew' LOVING: Will helped his mum care for the paralysed Superman star' STRONG BOND: Will with mum Dana in 2004
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 25, 2006
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