TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Billie Dougherty's holiday wish is a simple one.
For the past two months, she has been imprisoned in her home. She misses sitting by her neighborhood pool and going to the library or playground with her niece.
"Even to just go outside and sit on the porch would be nice," said Dougherty, 38.
But she can't get past the four steps outside the front door, so she has been wishing to have a ramp for her wheelchair installed.
The problem is that she's overweight and has a host of ailments, including diabetes, congestive heart failure and blood clots in her lungs.
Back in May, she tripped and fell, injuring her right leg. As she recuperated at a nursing home in July, she said she fell again and injured the other leg.
Now, she can walk short distances but she can't do stairs.
She's trying to lose the weight. In the past five months she went from a high of 450 to 372 pounds when she was last weighed a few weeks ago. She hopes to get down to 300.
A nurse and two therapists who visit the home regularly worry that Dougherty is at risk. If something happens to her, she may not be able to get out for help in time.
This week therapist Brian Goodger contacted citylife church on Central Avenue, looking for help to build a ramp. The pastor there agreed to help and accept donations. Estimates range around $5,000 — far more than Dougherty can afford with her disability checks.
"We've been wracking our brains on how to get this done," Goodger said.
In the meantime, therapists encourage Dougherty with simple exercises.
One day recently, she stood and sank into an easy chair 20 times while Goodger counted.
"Good," he said, as she breathed heavily. He usually has her sweating. Goodger works with Nurse on Call, which provides Dougherty with health care services paid for by Medicare.
He brought a step like the ones used in step aerobics classes. Dougherty uses the step, exercise videos and interactive games. Her sister sometimes joins in for support.
Goodger even contacted Richard Simmons, who called Dougherty and sent her a video and signed picture: Sweet Billie, you can do it. Be strong and never give up. Love, Richard Simmons.
But nothing motivates her more than her niece, 10-year-old Cheyenne Deimler.
"I love spending time outside with her," Dougherty said. Together, they used to pack sandwiches and take them to a park where they listened to music as they ate.
It isn't easy being overweight. After injuring her legs, the trip from the nursing home came by way of an ambulance equipped with a special gurney.
Sometimes when she walks Dougherty can hear her spine crack. She feels like her bones are pushing upward when she stands. She sees people's stares and knows they think she eats too much. She has tried continually to diet and exercise. When she loses pounds they come back, she said.
Now she spends much of her time working on crafts. She makes latch hook rugs, yarn wall hangings and other decorations.
Weight problems run in the family. Dougherty was heavy in kindergarten, and by high school graduation, she weighed 260. At 17 she got a job at McDonald's. She worked there and at other fast-food restaurants and convenience stores until 10 years ago. The free meals didn't help.
The family is genetically predisposed to being heavy, her mother, Wanda Dougherty, said. "We do the best we can," she said. "It's some our fault, but not all our fault."
Today, Billie and Wanda live together in a mobile home with their five cats. They don't have a lot of money, said Wanda, who does the grocery shopping. They can't afford fresh vegetables or expensive lean meats, she said. But they rarely have junk food, and they drink diet sodas and iced teas.
Billie Dougherty said she's more than what people see on the outside. "It upsets me when people judge me by the way I look," she said. "I don't judge them. Just because someone's large doesn't mean they're not friendly."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at (813) 226-3431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.