Kent Waldrep's Story
Kent Waldrep was only 20 years old when he was read a list of things that doctors said he would never be able to do for the rest of his life.
The list included almost everything that most people take for granted: sitting up, feeding himself, putting in his own contacts, driving, getting married, and having children.
It would have been easy for Kent to abandon all hope and believe what the doctors told him. After all, he was paralyzed from the neck down. Instead of giving up, though, Kent and his family unwittingly became pioneers in the search for a cure for paralysis.
Alvis Kent Waldrep Jr. was born August 2nd, 1954 in the city of Austin, TX. Early in his life, Kent developed a love for sports. His heroes were Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorns. He loved the camaraderie, the competition and most of all – the freedom that sports provided him.
Through the years, Kent learned many of life’s lessons from sports. He was always positive and quickly became an inspiration to everyone who came into contact with him. Most importantly, though, Kent learned how to pick himself after being knocked down. It was a lesson that would serve him well in future years.
It was on a fall day in 1974 that Kent Waldrep learned the true meaning of freedom. He was the starting running back when TCU played the Alabama Crimson Tide in Birmingham, Alabama. A play was called, “Red Right 28 on Set,” that would send Kent carrying the football around the right end. Multiple defenders met him at the line of scrimmage. He became airborne during Alabama’s efforts to push him out of bounds. Kent was instantly paralyzed as his helmet met the artificial turf and the impact crushed his fifth cervical vertebrate.
Kent’s parents were enjoying a relaxing weekend at home when they received the phone call that would change their lives forever. A stunned Al and Denise Waldrep flew to Alabama to be by their son’s side at University Hospital in the University of Alabama Medical Center. Kent’s sisters, Terry Lynn and Carole also made their way to Alabama as quickly as possible.
Kent’s injury created a number of immediate physical complications. His head was shaved and he was put in traction. He required a catheter. There was also intense pain and breathing was nearly impossible. Mentally, Kent remained strong for himself and his family and confident that he would recover completely after he finished rehabilitation.
Kent’s first hurdle was surgery to fuse his fourth, fifth and sixth vertebrae. There was a very real possibility that Kent could die from the operation. In the meantime, thousands of people from around the state of Alabama rallied around the Waldreps, including Governor Wallace and Kent’s hero, Paul Bear Bryant.
Kent spent two weeks in the hospital after his operation before his cervical traction was removed. A sudden bout of Pneumonia caused another brush with death and Kent spent another week in ICU before taking another step toward regaining his life.
On November 26, 1974, Kent began rehabilitation at The Institute for Research and Rehabilitation (T.I.R.R.) in Houston, Texas. It was at T.I.R.R. that Kent became aware of the current attitude toward treating people with Paralysis in the United States.
At T.I.R.R., Kent shared a dull gray room that reeked of urine with seven other people. A social therapist visited him soon after he arrived and said, “You’ve been an athlete all of your life. My job is to now teach you to come to grips with your new reality – living in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.” The medical community had already decided that there was no cure and no hope for victims of paralysis.
Kent left T.I.R.R. on February 26, 1975, a long three months after he began his rehabilitation. He had endured a lot since his accident in Alabama. He was also determined to take matters into his own hands.
Kent’s story up to this point was very similar to the stories of many other people who were victims of spinal cord injuries. Physical complications, lost friendships and financial strain combined with adjusting to life without hope for a cure took its toll on Kent and his family. But, the Waldreps had a strong sense of faith and refused to accept that there was no hope.