When John (JT) Doody was a junior in high school, his mother made a deal with him: If you pass all the sections of the GED, you can start college. “He had always been so active and social in school and got good grades, but his best friend was killed in a bicycle accident and after that, John lost all interest,” his mother, Christina shared. Soon John was going to college and hanging out with new friends. But in a twist of fate, after the tragic events of September 11, he was called to join the United States Marine Corps. “There was no talking him out of it,” Christina remembers.
John joined the Marines in 2005 at the age of 22 and deployed to Iraq in late January 2007. Over the next three months, he wrote letters to his mother about being on the front lines in Fallujah, and on March 7, he turned 24 years old. On his birthday he proudly told his mom by phone that he had been awarded a combat action ribbon.
Just two days later, John was engaged in combat operations when he was shot three times by enemy combatants. After sustaining to shots to his right leg forcing him down, another enemy combatant with opened fire on him. The final bullet entered his left leg below the knee, traveling up his leg, tearing through his flesh and nerves. It left a hole big enough to swallow a man's fist.
John was flown to San Diego for treatment and over time his body and mind began to heal from his brush with death. Using braces, John relearned how to walk. He began to dream again and decided to enter law school. Little did he know the worst was yet to come. Inside of John’s body, unbeknownst to his doctors or to anyone, a bacterial infection was growing around the lining of his heart. Less than a year after John returned stateside, a mass of bacteria broke loose and traveled to his brain triggering a series of strokes and causing him to slip into a coma.
"It just looked like somebody salt-and-peppered his brain," said Christina, recalling the x-rays. The results left John with a severe brain injury, quadriplegia, and cognitive blindness. “I didn’t recognize him. His body and hands were swollen, and his organs were failing. He was on full life support and the doctors told us he would never wake up. But I knew my son was still in there.”
Over the next eleven months, John’s mother never left his side. After 5 months in a coma, one momentous day John uttered his first words. “I was talking to him like I always did and asked if he wanted to watch a TV show and suddenly, he said ‘no.’ Everyone in the unit came running in and we were all crying. Later that night, John said I was going to have a ‘messed-up son’ and I told him I didn’t care.”
John’s road to recovery has been long and brutal. As his full-time caregiver, Christina has tried to give him a normal life, but she worries about his future. “The hardest part of our lives is that I literally have to do everything for another human being. He can’t feed himself, turn on his light or even his TV. I am in the process of working with him to be able to make or answer calls on his own. A smart home would make both of our lives so much easier. Although I am in good shape, I am only going to continue to age while John will still need to be cared for.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation looks forward to building John a new custom, smart-technology home with features that will give him greater autonomy and independence. A safe place where John can more easily and fully participate in the daily routines for a better quality of life, while also giving Christina peace of mind.