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Businessman has Lou Gehrig's Disease

This last December, 60-year-old Dan Hacker of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, had a busy holiday season. He and his wife of 38 years, Lynn, own and manage one of the Midwest's largest wholesale/retail Christmas tree, garland, and wreath operations. Last year, they sold more than 30,000 Christmas wreaths in 40 states, and over 10,000 fresh Christmas trees.

In the years leading up to 2007, Dan had trouble falling down while walking, leg and foot pain, leg cramps, and at times was choking on his own saliva. He just thought he was getting older and perhaps needed to lose weight.

Lynn said, "Then in 2007, a doctor diagnosed Dan with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and that changed our whole outlook on business and life. Right away, we went on the Internet and started reading about ALS and became confused and scared. We finally were able to realize that no disease is the same for each person."

Though 80 percent of people with ALS die within five years, Dan has been fortunate, said Lynn. The progression of the disease in his body has been slower.

The ALS Therapy Development Institute says ALS is a "fatal neurodegenerative disease affecting 30,000 Americans and 450,000 people worldwide. Currently, there is no cure or effective treatment. On average, most people living with ALS only survive two to five years from diagnosis."

Coming up on six years now post-diagnosis, Dan still works in the family business. To get around, he uses a walker, an electric wheelchair or a scooter. In order for Dan to keep working, Dan and Lynn have traded many job duties. She now does most of the physical chores, and he mostly does office work.

Said Dan, "I now order most of the product we buy, do a lot of marketing, and handle customer email. But, the last couple years, it's also been my job to get up at two in the morning and stoke up the wood stoves in our four greenhouses. I do it using my scooter. I also water the greenhouse plants quite a bit. I do what I can."

What frustrates Dan often at work is having to explain how a particular task should be done, and then seeing the task wasn't performed the way he would like. Overall, Dan and Lynn have been leaning on their faith, and trying to be positive role models for their children and grandchildren.

Sponsored by Blue Valley Sod.

Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at

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