On Stephen and Cassie Winn’s wedding day in 2016, Stephen and his mother Amy shared a customary mother/son dance at their reception. But upon reaching for his mother, it hit him: This was the first time he had ever danced with his mother.
The reason? Amy Winn has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, and has been confined to a wheelchair for over 17 years. The progression of Amy’s MS has limited her ability to do many of the basic functions required on a daily basis.
“There was not a dry eye in the room,” said Cassie, Amy’s daughter-in-law. "It was that powerful.”
The wedding came at a transitional time for the Winn family, which consists of Amy and her three growing children. Amy’s second child, Garrett, had just left their Ohio home for Nashville, and her daughter Gracie was finishing up high school and preparing for college. Children leaving the nest and starting their own lives is an eventual time in every parent’s life, but Amy requires full-time assistance, which is why it felt like the perfect time to explore options.
Amy Winn with family members at Stephen and Cassie’s wedding in 2016
“Amy had a few friends approach her to talk about these new breakthroughs in stem cell therapy for MS patients, and it really got her excited, because she’d love to walk again,” said Cassie. However, the facility was in Los Angeles and none of the family members could afford the treatment. At this point in her journey, Amy counted on prayer and “a miracle” to show her the way.
That miracle came in the form of crowdfunding. Amy’s daughter-in-law Cassie has a background in digital marketing, and she researched various crowdfunding platforms before finding YouCaring, which offers free online fundraising for health and humanitarian causes.
“I didn't even tell Amy that I was setting it up,” Cassie confessed. “I set it up, and told her, ‘Hey, we're going to raise you $24,000 and you're going to California.’ We told the doctors which days we were coming to California before we even raised any money, because we had that much faith in it. Amy and Stephen’s first dance was such a good, hopeful story, and people need to see more hope like that. I'm not sure if you saw the video we shared of Stephen and Amy’s dance on our fundraising page?” Cassie asked, during the course of our interview.
I did, and so did over 250,000 others.
Upon creating their YouCaring page, Cassie sent out the clip to local Ohio news markets, who were so moved by Amy’s story that the video gained national attention on shows including “The Today Show.” This helped the Winn family’s fundraising campaign raise the $24,000 needed in only two and a half weeks.
Amy with her three children (from left, Stephen, Gracie, and Garrett) in November 2016
“It was overwhelming to experience the responses that we got and just to see people support this woman who they've never even met,” Cassie gushed. “They don't know who she is as a person, or what her family looks like, or even what her financial situation is like. And they were willing to give a couple hundred dollars. Twenty bucks. Fifty bucks. Anything. People would say, ‘I have MS, and this video gives me hope that I'll be able to dance with my son or my daughter at their wedding in 10 years.’ Or, ‘Thank you so much for sharing this. We are praying for you. It's so encouraging to hear that there's a treatment available.’”
Within four weeks, the Winn family set up their YouCaring page, raised the necessary funds online, traveled to California, and assisted Amy as she embarked on a 10-day stem cell therapy regimen. And after only a few months of the procedure, Amy and her family are noticing results.
“It feels like it jump-started Amy toward health. And if anything, it's halted the progression of the disease, and she looks a lot healthier,” Cassie said.
By combining her stem cell therapy with a regimented, balanced diet, Amy is positively thrilled with the early improvements.
“I have noticed an increase of clarity in thoughts as well as an improvement in my speech,” Amy shared on her Facebook page. “I also have an increase in energy and am not so fatigued!”
Amy’s journey will eventually take her down to Nashville to live closer to Stephen, Cassie, and Garrett while embarking on more extensive physical therapy. In the meantime, Amy is “so thankful to everyone that has helped me since receiving treatments,” and asks for all of her online contributors, friends, and family to “continue praying for the complete restoration of my health!”
Her family is staying hopeful and committed to dancing with Amy again someday.
“She might need help getting in the shower sometimes,” Cassie said, “or she might need help getting in and out of the bed, but she's still a person who can function, and have conversations, and have friends, and be with family, and enjoy her life. And we absolutely believe that she's going to walk.”
Michael Kasian is a features editor at Healthline who is focused on sharing the stories of others living with invisible illnesses, as he himself lives with Crohn’s.