All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2002

Home is where the heart is

Dougherty splits time between school, sports and caring for his ailing mother

October 8, 2002, Tuesday
The Ledger (Lakeland, FL)

Football players are generally a strong bunch, muscular enough to push each other around, make holes for running backs and bowl over their opponents.

But for Landmark quarterback Brandon Dougherty, being strong can be taken many ways.

Dougherty, 6 feet tall and 170 pounds, has to be strong enough to lift his mother, Brenda, from her hospital bed at their Davenport home and carry her to the sofa and back again.

He must also be strong for her when she isn't feeling well, like in March when Brenda had to be hospitalized for two months because complications from multiple sclerosis left Brenda paralyzed from the legs down. It was the third time she had been paralyzed. He must also be strong in his faith, which helps him keep his head and his heart in a positive place at times when his life as a 17-year-old forces him to face life's challenges before he is ready.

"He's very mature," said Landmark football coach Steve Carter. "He's had to grow up early."

Brandon Dougherty has been the man of the house since his father left the family following a divorce.

He fixes the front door, hauls the trash and does all the things a man does around the house where two women -- his mother and his grandmother, Clodene Carter -- live in a mobile home park.

But Brandon does more than most men. He lifts his mother from her bed to the wheelchair. He helps her exercise her legs, and he's there for her when she needs him, like the time earlier this year when Brenda was temporarily blind and called Brandon at school.

"It was a bad day," said Dougherty. "Mom couldn't see. Grandma needed help. I helped. I provided consolation."

He did what he could and then made it back to school for a basketball game at Landmark Christian School in Haines City, where he also plays football and baseball.

"God's really blessed me to give me the strength to do that," said Brandon one day after football practice. "God's been on my side. I had to put my trust in Jesus. Once you do that, you'll always find a way -- even the littlest things. Somehow it helps out."

Brenda, a former elementary school teacher in Davenport, had to give up her job instructing emotionally handicapped students a few years ago when it became too taxing, much to her regret.

"I miss it," she said, speaking from her bed, which is placed in the living room.

"It's difficult when you know you can't do things as well as you once did."

She is careful not to overburden her son.

"We've done our best not to interfere with his school or sports," said Brenda. "It's a lot of pressure that I'm trying to relieve for him."

"It's a strain on everything," said Brandon.

Every evening in March, April and May after school and baseball practice, Brandon went to Winter Haven Hospital to spend time with his mother.

"That didn't leave me much time to have a life like a teen-ager does," he said.

Yet he deals with the situation like an adult.

"It's extremely mentally tiring," he said. "She's had a blood clot in her lungs, eye problems. She's fought through it all."

As proud of Brandon is of his mother, Brenda is just as proud of her son.

"I'm really fortunate that I have a son I don't need to worry about," she said. "Sports and the church have been his whole life."

Before the latest trip to the hospital, the two enjoyed spring training baseball games together. They still share time together watching Brandon's favorite teams -- the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers -- on television.

Part of Brandon's duties were relieved a few months ago when the family got a wheelchair-equipped van.

That was even better for the teen-ager, since he's now driving his mother's car.

"Amen. Praise God," said Brandon of the van. "I was thrilled."

While Brandon is Brenda's only child and the majority of Brenda's family lives in Ohio, Brandon's Aunt Rita and Uncle Bruce live next door and provide help with the family.

Brandon is also grateful to have a steady, understanding girlfriend in Tia Winchester, and a core group of five friends he shares his thoughts with.

"They are all very supportive," he said.

Brandon is happy at Landmark, which he deems the greatest school in the world, and it shows.

"I've never seen a kid who has as much school spirit as he does," said his grandmother. "It's genuine. If anybody doesn't show school spirit, he's all over them."

However, things were not all rosy last spring when he was pitching in the state baseball championship finals and his mother was still in the hospital.

"I wanted her to be there," said Brandon. "She wanted to be there more than I wanted to be there."

But someone videotaped the game and Brenda got to see it.

"That was really hard," said Brenda.

The two got to share a special moment on Senior Night earlier this season before one of Brandon's football games.

They had their picture taken together on the football field.

"That was important to me," said Brenda. "It was his senior year. It was special."

Except for that special moment, the playing fields are Brandon's sanctuary.

"When I go on the field, everything else disappears," he said. "I can put it all out there. This is the way my life is supposed to be," he said.

"All this stuff -- it made me what I am now. It's given me a base. I'm well-grounded."

© Copyright 2002 Lakeland Ledger Publishing Corporation