Lansing, Mich., 4-year-old, Kender Hunt is seeking a furry best friend who could just save his life.
Kender Hunt is 4 years old, but is currently developmentally only about 2.
"We first found out he had medical issues when he was 2 months old," says his mom Elayne. "We noticed he didn't seem to be tracking, and he smiled in response to sound or touch rather than sight. We also saw white reflections in his eyes."
Because those reflections can be a sign of cancer, they quickly saw a specialist in Ann Arbor, Mich., who referred them to Dr. Michael Trese in Royal Oak--possibly the world's best expert on pediatric retinal diseases.
Dr. Trese diagnosed Kender with Familial Exudative Vitreo-Retinopathy (FEVR), stage IV in both eyes, and immediately performed surgery to peel a retinal fold and remove the vitreous fluid in Kender's worse eye.
His family found out that FEVR is a genetic disease. His father Brian, also blind, had been misdiagnosed all his life and actually had this disease; four of their six children had this disease, including two of the triplets who were losing vision, and another of the singletons who was also blind. Since diagnosis, Kender has had multiple eye surgeries, undergoing anesthesia every 2-6 months and having multiple invasive procedures. He developed glaucoma and a blown pupil in one eye at 18 months, and his development seemed to freeze at that point. Only eyedrops to relieve pain, started when he was almost 4, allowed him to move forward.
As he progressed, it became more obvious that the family's suspicions of autism were correct, and they were able to make that diagnosis formal this summer. One of Kender's sisters also has a formal autism spectrum diagnosis.
Kender and his family have a lot of challenges, but the biggest ones right now are related to his autism. He doesn't respond to his name, he doesn't respond if you call him, he doesn't follow commands, and he doesn't understand boundaries and limits. They have had to place extra locks on their doors at home so that he cannot go outside--plus they have to watch him constantly when they are away from home to make sure he doesn't get away. He can disappear in the blink of an eye!
Therefore, they have applied for an autism service dog for Kender. With him, the biggest helps for his family will be with mobility. They will be able to tether Kender to the dog when they are out in public, and the dog will be trained to find Kender if he gets away.
As a bonus, the dog does not need to be trained as a guide dog to help with Kender's mobility in that way; his father knows from experience that just walking with an untrained dog can provide helpful information about the ground and surroundings, and the family hopes that this will improve Kender's confidence in walking on unfamiliar terrain. They expect the dog will be helpful in disrupting some of Kender's self-injurious behaviors, like head banding and eye poking.
"We look forward also to having a physical and emotional anchor for Kender during religious ceremonies, where I have been concerned about his unusual, and sometimes disruptive, behavior driving away other members of the congregation," said Elayne.
4 Paws for Ability is the only service dog organization in the country that was ready and willing to work with a child with both autism and blindness, like Kender. It will cost 4 Paws $22,000 to place a dog with Kender. His family is committed to raising $13,000 in support of the 4 Paws mission and can reach their goal with your help. For additional information, please contact Elayne Glantzberg at 517-974-5540 or email to [email protected]