Andy Hahn 06.20.13
I grew up near Pittsburgh, PA, where, despite my suburban surroundings, I enjoyed hunting, fishing and trapping. Eventually I combined my passion for the outdoors with talent as a writer/photographer to mold a successful career on the edit staff of Sport Fishing magazine. I’ve been living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (my wife’s hometown) for more than 20 years.
I had always pursued an active, athletic lifestyle. In June 2005—when I was 43 years old, stood 6 feet four inches, weighed 185 pounds, worked out at the gym four mornings per week, and played several hours of beach volleyball a week—I began having persistent twitching (called fasciculations) in my shoulders. Over the next few months I lost my normal quickness and leaping ability, which made me flub routine plays in volleyball. My arms and legs started seizing up in agonizing cramps. I lost smoothness in my step and my gait became a stilted shuffle. I frequently lost my balance. I consulted a general practioner, who referred me to a neurologist, who conducted many exams over the following months without issuing a clear verdict.
Finally the doc arriived at a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). This malady destroys nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement. When they stop receiving signals from nerves, the muscles weaken and gradually wither away. There is no known cure or effective treatment for slowing the disease’s progress.
Having ALS compares to donning a full-body suit of wet cement. At first your arms and legs feel very heavy. As the cement dries, your limbs stiffen and eventually become immobile.
In late 2006 my balance got so shaky that I needed a four-legged walker. When I brought home the shiny, polished-aluminum walker, the first thing I did was wrap it in camo tape because I knew I’d be using it in the woods. By early 2008 I needed a wheelchair and my arms had become too weak to raise a rifle. In 2009 I started using a rigid cervical collar because my neck was too weak to hold up my head. My speech is now labored, slurred and difficult to understand.
The rate at which ALS progresses varies greatly from one patient to another, but statistics show that most patients die of respiratory failure within two to five years of diagnosis. I feel fortunate; somebody must have dumped slow-drying cement on me because I’m approaching seven years since diagnosis and still have limited use of my legs, arms and hands.
As ALS robbed my strength, normal daily tasks grew increasingly difficult. When assisting me became too physically demanding for my wife, we hired two personal aides who trade off in three-day shifts to give me round-the-clock care. They help me bathe, dress, and eat.
Through it all, I’ve maintained a positive attitude. Rather than waste time lamenting what I can’t do, I focus on what I’d like to do and find ways to make it happen. And that means finding ways to keep hunting, even as my strength fades. Cancer patients undergo chemotherapy; I treat my ALS with CamoTherapy. (I’m trying to convince my health insurance provider to cover the cost of hunting trips.)
The goal of AllOutdoor.com is to provide the information you need to “GET OUT THERE.” By sharing my tips, insights and experiences as a disabled hunter, I hope to encourage folks—handicapped as well as able-bodied—to get out and enjoy the woods.