Double Down to hold charity event for veteran with MS

Ken Thurman Jr. doesn’t like to sit still. He likes to keep busy working in his yard and helping his wife Tina with their horses. Unfortunately Ken has multiple sclerosis and relies on his Segway to get around the couples three-acre lot. His work time has been cut as the battery life of the Segway is diminishing. Monte LaOrange /

SHELLEY — Multiple sclerosis may have stripped Ken Thurman Jr. of the full use of his legs, but he doesn’t let that slow him down from taking care of seven horses on his three-acre property.

Thurman, 49, said he started experiencing “foot drop,” or difficulty moving the front part of the foot, in 2005 when working as a private security contractor in Iraq for Triple Canopy. Before that, he was a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He was deployed to Germany from 1984 to 1989 and served in the Idaho Army Reserve until 1992.

When he returned home from Iraq, he started experiencing more symptoms and, in 2006, was diagnosed with MS. By 2007, he’d lost much of the movement in his legs. According to the National MS Society, the disease attacks a person’s central nervous system. Symptoms range from blurred vision to paralysis and blindness.

Today, Thurman relies on a Segway scooter to get around so that he can put up fence posts, feed the horses, groom the arena and more.

“(The Segway) is a necessity,” Thurman said. “The reality is I wouldn’t be able to do the things I can without it.”

But after seven years of darting from place to place, the batteries are beginning to wear down, and new ones will set him and his wife back around $1,800.

Due to his disease, Thurman is unable to work, and relies on social security disability benefits to pay the bills. Thurman’s wife, Tina, trains horses on the couple’s property. Thurman has two sons in their 20s who live in Colorado.

Though Thurman’s medical costs are covered by the Veterans Health Administration, it is up to the Thurmans to cover the costs of the battery.

In an effort to help the Thurmans pay for new Segway batteries and help others in the area who live with MS, the Double Down Betting Bar and Grill is hosting a fundraiser for the Idaho Falls Multiple Sclerosis Support Group at 6 p.m. Friday at the Double Down Betting Bar and Grill, 3078 Outlet Blvd.

Thurman’s sister, Melissa Bernard, who organized the event and co-owns the Double Down, said 10 percent of the money made from food and drink sales will go to Thurman and the support group.

The “family friendly” event is free to attend. Local hypnotists/comedians Doug and Don West will perform at around 8 p.m.

Bernard said she hopes the event will educate the community about the challenges people with MS face.

“Our community is very supportive of their neighbors and fellow men,” Bernard said. “So we want to give people the opportunity to pay it forward, we want to remind people that you can always do something nice for your neighbor, and little gestures can make a big difference.”

Thurman’s wife, Tina, said he doesn’t let the disease get the best of him.

“He’s really tough,” Tina Thurman said. “Sometimes I feel (MS) is tougher on me than it is on him.”

Thurman is undergoing tests and trials with the Salt Lake City VA for new muscle stimulus technology. He currently wears a Bioness L300 Foot Drop System around his calfs, which sends electrical stimulation to activate nerves and muscles that lift the foot. Thurman said his doctors are considering more electrical stimulation devices to aid with his walking.

Bernard said her brother’s stubbornness and ingenuity is an inspiration.

“He’s a fighter,” Bernard said. “His story teaches people to never give up. Instead, modify and adapt to your circumstances.”

Reporter Ali Tadayon can be reached at 542-6746.