ALS doesn’t slow down Sleepy Eye man

This last December, 60-year-old Dan Hacker of Sleepy Eye had a busy holiday season. He and his wife of 38 […]

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This last December, 60-year-old Dan Hacker of Sleepy Eye 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 Hacker 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 Hacker 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 states that 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 him to keep working, the couple has 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, the Hackers have been leaning on their faith, and trying to be positive role models for their children and grandchildren.

Since 2002, the weekly column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers throughout the United States and is one of the nation’s best-read weekly columns about people with disabilities. It is published thanks to generous support from and Palmer Bus Service. The column’s content runs the gamut from featuring the real-life stories of people with mental illness and learning disabilities to physical and intellectual disabilities.

Mr. Vance is editor of Connect Business Magazine. He is a counselor practicing in southern Minnesota. He and his wife have a college-attending daughter with spina bifida and a homeschooled teenage son. Read more of his writing at   

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