Correction to This Article
A photo caption with a June 26 Style article incorrectly described John Keitz's attempt to sit up. Keitz was trying to sit up for the first time in nearly three years, as the article noted, not seven years.

Big as Life

Weary and frustrated, John Keitz is put in a bed in a nursing home in Millersville, Md. The  apartment he expected to move into in Wilmington was not ready for his arrival.
Weary and frustrated, John Keitz is put in a bed in a nursing home in Millersville, Md. The apartment he expected to move into in Wilmington was not ready for his arrival. (Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 26, 2005

DUNDALK, Md. John Keitz weighs 625 pounds. He is so heavy his legs will not support his weight. The last time he stood on his feet was Aug. 1, 1998. That night he was making macaroni and cheese for his wife, Gina. He boiled and drained the noodles. Right after he cut in the Velveeta, he went down.

He has lain in bed in a Baltimore suburb for going on seven years. He is 39.

He lies on his front, because if he were to lie on his back, rolls of flesh would press on his windpipe and suffocate him. His head never touches sheet or pillow. At night, his left cheek nestles upon a soft white pile of shoulder and breast meat.

Lately he has been having a dream. He is on his feet again. He is in a kitchen. He is preparing a feast for 390 guests. For the first time in years he does not need help -- not with bathing, going to the bathroom, keeping a roof over his head. He cooks and cooks mountains of food. But he does not eat.

The dream gives him hope.

Other things give him hope: He used to be heavier. Months into his long bed-in, Keitz was put on a hospital scale.

"I weighed 780-something," he recalls.

Gina chimes in: "781.8."

Lying in bed, he has lost 156.8 pounds.

More hope: Gina herself. There's a love story for you. They said "I do" eight months before his legs gave out. They tried to have children, but Gina miscarried twice. She used to share the bed, but it broke. She began sleeping on the floor beside the bed.

To many, people like Keitz (pronounced "Keats") are figures of ridicule and repulsion. There is morbid curiosity about the morbidly obese. Keitz knows what people are thinking. How could someone get so fat? How could someone allow himself to be bedridden for seven years?

Life got away from John and Gina, one day at a time, one calorie at a time. As incredible as it seems, suddenly seven years had passed, they say, and with a shudder they realized that the abnormal had become routine.


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