MARION – In September of 2017, Jeffery Hunt remembers not knowing if his daughter would make it through the month alive.
The call had come in one day after work as his daughter Makisha Ralph was being transported to an intensive care unit in Columbus. A blood clot had made it into her lungs.
“We were afraid that she was going to die,” Hunt said as he remembered rushing into his car to make the hour drive from Marion.
His daughter, who has Down Syndrome, had struggled with her weight for a few years at the time. Standing at 4’11 she weighed around 306 pounds at her heaviest.
The health scare prompted a change in her. At the time, Hunt couldn’t imagine that his daughter would be jogging around a track a year and a half later. Or that she would be 100 pounds lighter.
Makisha’s family were told by her physician that if she didn’t change her lifestyle, there would be dire consequences.
“The first thing that came out of her mouth was ‘I am sorry daddy.’ I told her it wasn’t her fault and I hugged her,” Hunt said as he remembered when he first saw his daughter at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.
The night before, Makisha could barely make it up the stairs at her mother Melody Rivers’ home. Her daughter, who is married, was staying over.
“She got up to the first part (of the staircase) and was totally out of breath,” Rivers recalls. “She sat down and couldn’t breath.”
Though Makisha had struggled with several health issues before, the blood clot was a wake-up call for her family.
“I was just scared. It’s not something you want to go through. All these thoughts are racing through your head. The what-ifs,” Rivers recalled.
Hunt thought something had to be done for the sake of his daughter’s health. At the time, he recalls seeing Makisha twice a month. Since she was married, he did not have guardianship over her.
If his daughter was going to live a healthy lifestyle, it had to be a family effort, Hunt recalled. He gained guardianship shortly after, with the hopes of being able to monitor her health.
Leading by example
On Thursday, sweat covered Makisha’s shirt as she jogged around a small track at the the Marion Family YMCA. As she made it around the track for a fourth time, she waved to her step-mother Neva Hunt.
Just over a year ago, walking up a few steps was a challenge. Now Makisha was climbing onto an elliptical machine to do more cardio.
“When we first started, she couldn’t lift her leg up (and hold it in one spot),” her father recalled.
It was a slow progression, Neva said. It first started with cutting back on sugars, limiting portions and then there were the weekly trips to the Y.
Overtime, the family decided to adopt a keto diet, limiting carbohydrates and focusing on protein and vegetables.
“It has to be a team effort,” Neva said.” When we drink water she drinks water. Our meals are based around her. We eat what she eats.”
“Staying away from the sugar is the main thing. The sodas and sweets. All the good stuff,” Jeffery joked. He said if Makisha was going to make a change, they had to lead by example.
Though they may indulge on some junk food every once in a while, Neva said the main thing is being consistent in what they eat and when they exercise.
For Makisha’s family, the goal isn’t measured by the amount of pounds she loses. Instead they are focusing on the health gains she has made over the year.
It is something Melissa Appleton has noticed over the past year as she does routine check-ups with Makisha and her family.
Appleton —who is a service and support administrator with the Marion County Board of Developmental Disabilities— remembers Makisha as she struggled to muster up energy throughout the day. She had been assigned to her for a little over two years.
At the time, Makisha’s health problems had come to head as the family feared the worst.
Neva remembers that Makisha, a few years ago, could not stand for very long and minor tasks would often leave her winded. It got to a point where she could barley tie her shoes or even clean herself, Jeffery added.
“As a parent you always want your kids to be healthy and be able to do the things they always wanted to do,” Rivers said.
Now, their 31-year-old daughter is no longer at risk of having diabetes and has since been weened off of a blood clotting agent.
“But she had to put in the work. We couldn’t do it for her. But, we could encourage her,” Neva said.
Makisha married her husband Danny seven years ago. The couple usually stays with each other for a few days every week.
Danny, who also has Down Syndrome, often makes the trip from Fosteria —where he lives with his mother— to Marion to see his wife. While there, he often adopts his wife’s eating habits.
“All we can do is just try to be supportive. When he is here we encourage him to eat healthy. He often eats what she eats,” Neva said.
Sometimes Danny will make the trip to the Y with his wife or they will go bowling. Often, Makisha will call telling him about her day or her adventures in the swimming pool, which is one of her favorite activities.
“She has become so proud of herself. If she is encouraged she will always do it,” Neva said. “She has more energy. She wants to be more active.”
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