Being told you have any disease is difficult, but imagine a diagnosis with no cure, no known cause and little treatment. That's why a Sioux Falls family hopes to raise awareness about ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. They walked with their father in the Walk to Defeat ALS last year. But just one year later, they're now walking to remember him.
Bill Haagenson was a cowboy at heart with a big hat, a strong back and a helping hand.
"He used to tell me, 'Don't worry. There will never be a night you go cold or hungry.' He was that kind of man," Bill's daughter Erin Hill said.
"He was one of those guys who would truly stop whenever someone was in trouble. Sometimes it got irritating because we would be on the way to go someplace and there would be someone he'd stop and help. He was always the Good Samaritan," Bill's wife Joan Haagenson said.
"He was not a big man size-wise, but he was very strong for his size. So he could take his saddle and his blanket and throw them all on the horse at one time," Hill said.
But last year the family began to notice that the strong cowboy was getting weaker. They finally convinced him to go to the doctor last July. That's when doctors diagnosed him with ALS.
"By the time he was diagnosed, he was already so sick," Hill said.
"Every week there was a dramatic change. We could come over here sometimes; there would be a change from day to day," Bill's daughter Lynette Vlastuin said.
"They gave us an anticipated three to five years. Bill and I thought, .we'll beat that. We'll get him to 15, 20 years. We'll just have as much of a normal life as we can.' Instead it was nine months," Joan said.
Just nine months after his diagnosis Bill lost his battle with ALS. Both of his daughters and his wife now wear his thumbprint around their neck.
"I never want to forget him. I want him always a part of my life. He will be because of the type of guy he was," Joan said.
"There is a void that will never be filled. I knew eventually I would lose my dad. We all lose people we love. But I thought it would be 30 years from now. I thought he'd see my kids grow up," Hill said.
Instead, the family is taking part in the Walk to Defeat ALS. They're also organizing a rummage sale with all the proceeds going to ALS research and awareness with the hope that they'll be able to leave an impact in other people's lives just as their father did.
"He raised us to be strong and put on our boots and get done what we need to get done. But we have a big Dad-size hole now," Hill said.
The Sioux Falls Walk to Defeat ALS is Saturday, October 20 at The Empire Mall.
The family is also holding a rummage sale to raise money for the cause October 20th from 9:00 am-5:00 pm at the IBEW Local 426 Hall at 3509 S. Norton Avenue in Sioux Falls.