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From Jerry's kid to Kristofer's dad, Turlock man lives a full life

TURLOCK -- Two decades ago, he was one of "Jerry's Kids" and a Muscular Dystrophy Association poster child for Northern California.

Last month, Kenny Brown became a daddy.

"I always thought I'd never have kids," the 36-year-old Turlock man said. "My wife had other ideas."

Kristofer Carlyle Brown came into the world at Modesto's Memorial Medical Center on July 28, weighing 8 pounds, 11 ounces.

So add fatherhood to the list of life's challenges for a man who has been in a wheelchair since he was 13.

Challenges? Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disease that causes muscle deterioration. While Jerry Lewis and other entertainers have spent decades raising money for research, there is no cure. The disease is passed on through women, but affects mostly males. Kenny is the fourth member of his extended family to have the disease, outlasting an uncle who died at 28 and a cousin at 35. Another cousin with the disease, 23, lives in Colorado.

"My condition is unpredictable," said Kenny, who has Becker muscular dystrophy, a less severe form of the disease than the more well-known Duchenne type. "People with it have lived into their 80s, or died in their 20s."

Challenges? Kenny used to walk. Now he can't. He used to play the bass guitar. No more, though an inexpensive six-string stands in the corner of their Turlock home, waiting for Kristofer to strum it some day.

Challenges? Several weeks before Kristofer's birth, Kenny developed a gall bladder problem. He had surgery June 22, after which his white blood cell count elevated greatly. His doctor braced the family for the worst, suggesting that Kenny might not survive. And while he was in the operating room, wife Jennifer -- bedridden during the last month or so of her pregnancy -- was in Memorial's labor and delivery room having her blood pressure checked because of the stress.

"All I could think was that I'm going to have a baby and no husband," said Jennifer, whom Kenny married in 2001. They'd met when they were members of a wedding party a few years earlier.

"I couldn't believe God would bring (Kenny) this far and not have him see his son," said Melissa Brown, Kenny's mom.

Turns out Kenny seemed to be the only one who wasn't worried. Even though his muscle condition makes it difficult for him to heal, he knew better.

"I never put any stock in that," he said. "I was getting stronger."

So strong that he was able to be in the delivery room when Jennifer gave birth last month.

Other worries took over.

"(Before the birth) I started getting nervous, wondering what I am going to be able to do to support (Kristofer)," Kenny said. "My wife takes care of him and the house and me. I got kind of stressed out. I'm a lot less nervous now. Here he is. What good is worrying now?"

Kenny, who enrolled at California State University, Stanislaus, after graduating from Denair High in 1991, dropped out after about a year and spent several years doing freelance Web and graphic design.

"I always thought about doing something science- related," he said. "It didn't turn out that way. I turned out to be a geek."

He returned to college in 2004, and is about a year shy of graduating with a degree in computer information systems. He plans to do computer consulting jobs upon graduating. Despite his limited movement, he can handle a computer keyboard like a piano virtuoso.

So what if he'll never get to play catch with his son? Kenny was never big on baseball anyway.

He's happy that he can hold Kristofer in a shoulder harness.

"And when we read to him, I read the stories while (Jennifer) holds the book," Kenny said. "I'm looking forward to the day when he gets a little older and I can talk to him more -- where he'll respond."

A recent mechanical problem with Kenny's motorized wheelchair has made it louder. Kristofer notices the difference.

"He'll be in getting changed and he'll start looking around when he hears me coming down the hall," Kenny said.

"It's been cool to sit there and watch him sleep," he said. "I'm easily bored, and that's not something I'd thought I'd like to do."

His hopes for fatherhood?

"That I'm going to do a good job with him, that he'll grow up to be a good guy," Kenny said. "That he'll grow up to be friendly and pray, to go to church and have a good relationship with God. That he'll get married and have a family of his own. That he'll have intelligent things to say, and that he'll be a poet and better at it than me."

The one-time "Jerry's Kid" is now Kristofer's dad.

"And I'll do what I have to do to stay healthy and stay here as long as I can," he added.

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