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Girl for whom Grace Race named ‘thriving,’ mother says

By Tammy Keith

This article was published April 24, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.


Brad and Gina Windle sit with Maddie Grace Windle, 11, the couple’s only child, at their home in Aplin. Maddie, who has been diagnosed with cancer three times, returned in March from getting a stem-cell transplant. The Grace Race 5K walk and run, named for her, will be held Saturday during Fourche River Days in downtown Perryville.

APLIN — Gina Windle of Aplin said it has been “a long, hard journey,” but her 11-year-old daughter, Maddie Grace, is doing well after a stem-cell transplant for kidney cancer.

The second annual Grace Race 5K, which is set for Saturday during Fourche River Days in Perryville, was named in honor of Maddie.

Maddie was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor in 2011, Windle said. Maddie went into remission, but the cancer returned two more times, which Windle said is rare for that cancer.

“Doctors said if you had to draw a childhood cancer out of the bag, this is the one you want,” Windle said.

Maddie’s cancer is among the small percentage of Wilms’ tumors that is aggressive, her mother said. Maddie had a kidney removed when she was 8, but her cancer came back and was Stage 4 because it had progressed to her to lungs and lymph nodes, Windle said. Again, Maddie went into remission,

but the cancer returned.

Windle said Maddie returned March 7 from a stem-cell transplant at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

“We were in the hospital almost 50 days,” Windle said. “She received her own stem cells back after some major doses of chemo — near lethal doses.

“She was in the PICU (pediatric intensive-care unit) for several days. There were some scary parts to it,” Windle said.

“It was really hard, and at times it got pretty boring,” Maddie said. “The whole time, I just felt awful. It was really bad. I feel great, now.”

Maddie said she’s “definitely” ready to get on with her life and be done with hospitals for a while.

Gina said Maddie is responding well to the transplant.

“She’s thriving, she’s eating. Her energy levels are up,” Windle said. “We’re going in every week to have her labs checked. Her platelets are kind of low. It takes time for the body to recover.”

Windle said she and her husband, Brad, are friends with Shannon and Nathan Brand, who direct the race.

“They’re just phenomenal people. They saw a need, and they took an interest they already had, running, and they incorporated the two together,” she said.

The race raises money to help defray medical costs for people with life-threatening illnesses.

Last year’s race also benefited Shannon’s mother, Martha Zulpo of Little Italy, who had colon cancer. Windle is a former guidance counselor at Bigelow High School, where Zulpo also works.

“Battling this disease has brought us a lot closer,” Windle said of her family and the Brands.

Windle said Maddie was so excited about the race last year that she finished it, despite having just finished a round of chemo.

“We consider that pretty miraculous,” Windle said.

Maddie said it was “cool and really nice” of the Brands to name the race for her.

Windle said Nicole Evans, one of this year’s Perry County beneficiaries, has offered to let Maddie Grace ride in a golf-cart-type all-terrain

vehicle. Evans has breast cancer, Shannon said. The other beneficiary is Floye Zimmerman, who has colon cancer, Shannon said.

Grace Race, which is also open to walkers, will start at 8 a.m. at the courthouse in downtown Perryville. The cost is $25, and registration can be completed online at

This year, Windle said, Maddie is determined to be at the race, although she may not be able to walk the entire route this time.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or


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