By SHANNA SISSOM | Herald Managing Editor
At age 53, Kent Winders hopes to pick up his grandchildren for the first time and ride a horse again.
“I have nine grandchildren and I’ve never picked one up,” Winders said. “It’s been a goal in my life ever since my (grand) babies were born.”
The disabled former New Mexico rancher has lived in Plainview’s Prairie House Living Center for three years, making friends throughout the assisted living center while being near his son and daughter-in-law, Cory and Jennifer Winders.
Winders suffers from a rare form of multiple sclerosis, known as primary progressive, is wheelchair-bound and also has very limited use of his upper extremities.
The bulk of his mornings are spent in therapy and in the afternoons — at least when a Texas Rangers game isn’t on — he often roams about in his motorized wheelchair. He knows where every item in Walmart is located, and he often fetches merchandise his fellow residents want to buy. Sometimes he goes over to Chili’s or Tractor Supply.
He taught a Bible study at the nursing home for over a year, but just reading Scriptures is challenging anymore.
“I can’t even hold my Bible now,” he explained.
But he likes to look at pictures of his grandchildren, and is happy to show them off to a visitor.
Despite his predicament, Winders is hopeful a procedure relatively new in the United States could help him. And he has reason to believe it will.
Back in 2001, he received a stem cell treatment in Tijuana, Mexico, and saw noticeable improvement to his overall condition, among them were regaining bladder control and seeing his swollen purple feet return to normal size. Friends helped him with costs associated with it all, and the volume of stem cells he received were 3 million to 5 million.
By vast contrast, stem cell infusions now available in the Houston area could deliver up to 600 million stem cells in multiple injections of 100 million to 150 million each, he said.
Winders has been researching all this with his daughter, who’s made contact with Hale County native physician Stanley Jones who performs these procedures in the Houston area. He’s even talked to Texas State Rep. Rick Hardcastle, who himself has undergone stem cell infusion for MS.
“It’s been the most miraculous thing that’s ever happened in my life,” Hardcastle told the Herald. Before he had the infusion, being out in the heat for long would leave him crippled, and he had enormous problems balancing. “Basically I got better.”
Four days after his infusion almost a year ago, Hardcastle said he was on a long-planned trip to Alaska, standing in a river fishing,
“I started getting better, and anybody that asks me, I say call me any place, anytime,” Hardcastle said.
And so he has encouraged Winders to get the stem cell procedure. Winders is quick to point out the stem cells would all be harvested from his own stomach.
“Those stem cells are not controversial. They are not embryo, not harvested from aborted babies,” Winders said. “People who have the same faith as I do would want to know that.”
He’s been fighting MS for about 24 years, but his particular type of MS affects only 10 percent of those suffering from the illness, and there’s no prescription drugs available to that group.
When he talked to Hardcastle recently the state representative encouraged him to seek the treatment, but the $28,000 price tag and travel expense is cost-prohibitive.
However, his friend Danny Andrews is among those who hope that just maybe donors might come forward to help the man Andrews calls his hero.
“He’s been such an inspiration to me because of his faith and desire to get out of that chair,” Andrews said. “He’s still a young man and I think he feels somewhat trapped there, and I hurt for him so badly.”
Andrews, who carries on an informal personal ministry at the facility, came across Winders during one of his weekly visits not long after Winders arrived at the facility. The two made an instant connection, Andrews said. In addition to their strong religious faith, they both are avid Texas Rangers fans.
“Me and Danny coach the Rangers from Plainview,” Winders joked from his room recently.
So as family and friends try to figure out how to raise money for the stem cell infusion Winders believes will change his life and enable him to pick up his grandbabies, he remains faithfully optimistic.
“I’m 53 in a nursing home and I don’t want to live here all my life,” Winders said. “I’d like to regain my independence, support myself where I can live on my own and do normal everyday activities everyone else does.”
The Winders family currently is researching ways to raise money, and hopes to establish a fund soon.
“Lord, I hope someone would come forward to help,” Andrews said about his friend.