With mother at his side, a wounded veteran fights to stay positive gas yourself in car

When asked what gets him out of bed every morning, J.T. Doody’s response is simple: Jesus, football and women. • His morning ritual involves an hourlong process in which the 30-year-old Iraq War veteran depends on his mom or a nursing assistant to do everything. Brush his teeth. Scrub his body. Wash his hair. • Doody spends his life in constraints, paralyzed because he contracted a hospital-borne infection while under treatment for injuries suffered in Iraq. • His days consist of a series of movements between his hospital bed, a 375-pound motorized wheelchair, and a sling that transfers him from his bed to his shower. • But Chris Ott refuses to let her son’s limitations define his life. They eat at restaurants, check out bikini-clad girls at beach bars, host football parties every Sunday, even go to strip clubs. • "We try to make his life as normal as possible," Ott said. "Especially important is the socialization. You can’t meet anyone if you’re sitting in front of your TV." • While Doody possesses the technology and support to get out of bed, his will to want to move, to live, distinguishes him. It’s one of the reasons the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce will honor him at its annual Ruskin Seafood Festival this weekend. • Nursing assistant Sheri Womble said that many wounded veterans simply stay in bed, glued to their televisions, no interest in an outside world they can’t participate in. • "He’s the only person I’ve met in his condition that really leads a normal life, and it’s because of her," Womble said of Ott. "He does normal, typical 30-year-old guy stuff. It’s a normal life, he just happens to be in a wheelchair."

In 2007, Doody spent three months in Iraq. He wrote letters to his mother, went on combat missions in Fallujah and turned 24 years old. On his birthday, he proudly told his mom by phone that he had been awarded a combat action ribbon. Don’t worry, he said, the insurgents always shoot over my head.

The lance corporal was flown to San Diego for treatment. Over time, his body and mind began to heal from his brush with death. With braces, Doody learned to walk again. His limp was barely noticeable, and his mind crafted ways to deal with what he saw.

And then in January an unknown infection growing along the lining of his heart broke free. Less than a year after the battle in Fallujah, a mass of bacteria acquired during his hospitalization struck more severely than the bullets from the sniper had.

Each morning, he lies patiently as a nurse turns his body one way, then another, undressing him and preparing him for a shower. Sometimes he sings along softly to the Pandora music in the background. It’s almost always set to Chris Tomlin, a contemporary Christian singer.

Boredom is a persistent problem for Doody, maybe his biggest. Fortunately, because of the traumatic brain injury and short-term memory loss, he doesn’t struggle as much with PTSD. But the lack of physical exertion, the inability to control what he does or when he does it, can be stifling. Being trapped within one’s head is lonely, frustrating and dull.

When he swears at the nurses — calling them devil women and snapping at their hands as they reach to help — Womble reminds herself that he doesn’t mean it. There’s no point chiding him, she said — because of the brain injury and memory loss, he’ll soon forget he lashed out.

At one recent party at the house, people flitted about, cracking open cold Bud Lights and devouring the chicken that had marinated overnight. Doody trained his eyes on the tie game between the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins. The doorbell rang and the dogs barked, signaling a new arrival.

Outside on the porch, Ott and Womble play a game. Ott promised the nurse, who was off duty on this day, that if she can throw an empty beer can from her seat on the couch and land it in the narrow, cylindrical can crusher above the recycling bin, she’ll give her a hundred bucks.

Eyes trained on the can crusher across the porch, she aims, cocks her elbow and releases. A clang sounds when she hits the ceiling fan, and a ping echoes as the can lands first sideways on the crusher and then rights itself to slide in perfectly.

Inside the house, Doody cocks his head toward the noise. A few years ago, his reaction likely would’ve been instant: Stand up, take two steps, open the sliding door and join the crowd. Instead, his eyes stayed trained on the TV, his body confined to the chair.