LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A local woman is celebrating her place in history as a veteran, an advocate, a champion for change, and a go-getter. Teresa Thurtle also has a message. She wants veterans to pay close attention to their health.
“I’ve done it. All of it,” Thurtle said of her time in the United States Air Force. “I have been on all seven continents. I deployed Iraq, Afghanistan.” She added, “We were all dodging mortars as they come in. You kind of get used to them.” Even with those scarier moments, Thurtle looks back at her time in the service fondly. She said, “I loved every minute.”
But, Thurtle also said it came with some tough life lessons. “I think it’s easy to realize, you know, don’t take things for granted. Don’t take your family and friends for granted.” That’s something she faced head-on right before a deployment in 2011 when her dad was diagnosed with ALS. “I think we all thought he would live longer than he did,” she said.
Thurtle comes from a long line of Dodger fans and was able to take her dad to see a game before he passed away, just eleven months after his official diagnosis. But, that loss, coupled with her grandmother’s death; she also had ALS; forced Thurtle to confront a stark reality. “Myself and two of my brothers tested positive for a known ALS gene.”
She also then discovered, “Military are upwards of five times more likely to develop ALS than those who didn’t serve in the military.”
As a communications specialist in the Air Force, Thurtle spent nine years at the Pentagon. “It was a lot of policymaking,” she said. That prepared her for her next journey. An advocate and a champion for her family and her military family. “It does make me fight harder and advocate more to find a cure,” she said.
Thurtle is now retired and back home in Nevada. Her journey has included many honors, including a beer in her name. “This is the Thirsty Thurtle at Hudl Brewing Company and it’s part of the ales for ALS campaign.” But she says her fight is far from over. Until there’s a cure, she said she’ll press on. “I have to. I feel like I don’t have a choice.”
The government has acknowledged a link between ALS and military service. The exact cause and connection still need more research, which is why Thurtle and her brothers are taking part in a study that also looks at genes and lifestyle factors.