Actor Christopher Reeve has undergone an experimental surgery that doctors believe will enable him to breathe regularly without a respirator for the first time since he broke his neck in a horseback accident in 1995.

Physicians at University Hospitals of Cleveland used minimally invasive surgery to implant tiny electrodes, which control his breathing by stimulating the muscles of his diaphragm with a pacemaker-like device.

Using the device, the paralyzed "Superman" star is now able to breathe without a respirator for 15 minutes at a time. At a news conference, Reeve said it was a relief to escape the constant noise when the respirator was first turned off. "All you could hear was me breathing through my nose -- regular rhythmic breathing from my nose for the first time in nearly eight years," he said.

With the respirator turned off, Reeve is also able to talk and to detect odors. "I actually woke up and smelled the coffee," he said.

Raymond Onders, who performed the experimental procedure, said the team is now working to strengthen the muscles of Reeve's diaphragm, which have not been used for eight years.

About 200 to 300 spinal cord injury patients might be eligible for the procedure once it is approved, Onders said.