Longtime coach and teacher Dan Haskell diagnosed with LBD in 2004
For Dan Haskell, it started with simple forgetfulness.
“It was little stuff at first,” recalled youngest daughter Joannie Blakely. “He would reach for a cup, but there was no cup there.”
These early warning signs began infrequently when Blakely was still in high school, in the late 90s. As the symptoms worsened, the Haskell family sought medical advice. Several doctors said Haskell was showing early signs of what appeared to be Alzheimer’s disease. Still in his 50s, Haskell and his family did not want to believe it.
Haskell’s symptoms progressed; and it became clear something was wrong. After visiting several specialists, Haskell was not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, as many doctors first thought. Instead, he was afflicted by a lesser-known, more devastating disease – Lewy body dementia. He was 61 years old when he was diagnosed in 2004.
Passion for fitness and service
Throughout his life, Haskell was a servant to his country and community. A member of the 82nd Airborne, he served in the Army from 1969 to 1971. He spent one of those years fighting in the Vietnam War.
Upon returning home, he dedicated his professional life to educating the youth of America. After a stint teaching physical education, he taught industrial arts at the Rolla Middle School for 20 years. He also coached wrestling and 9th grade football throughout most of his teaching career. When Haskell retired in 2000, he’d spent 32 years as an educator.
Haskell remained committed to physical fitness throughout his life. It’s a passion he instilled in his three daughters: Dana Pinzke, Ann Cardetti and Blakely.
“My dad has always been a health nut,” Blakely noted. “Several months ago, my sisters and I talked about running a half marathon to raise money for LBD research. As we discussed it, we decided to combine his love for the community and fitness by hosting a 5K in Rolla.”
And so the first annual Coach Haskell 5K Run/Walk was born. Slated for Saturday, Sept. 22, with an 8 a.m. start time, the race will begin at the Rolla Junior High School. In keeping with Haskell’s football tradition, the race will conclude with a charge up the RJHS hill.
“Dad used to love running the team up that hill for conditioning,” Blakely said.
So far, 200 runners and walkers have signed up for the race. And, even though “walk” is in the title, Blakely said they’ll be keeping time. The fastest two males and two females, 55 and under, will be recognized as the top finishers. They’ll also recognize the top senior finishers. For those who haven’t signed up yet, race-day registration will open at 7 a.m.
Racing to raise LBD awareness
All race proceeds will benefit Lewy body dementia research at the Mayo Clinic. LBD, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, combines Alzheimer’s-like mental symptoms with a loss in body control, much like Parkinson’s disease. It affects 1.3 million people in the U.S.
According to Elizabeth Patrick, communications manager for the Lewy Body Dementia Association, LBD is the second most common form of progressive dementia, after Alzheimer’s disease. For most, LBD symptoms surface between the ages of 50 and 70. However, doctors have documented symptoms beginning as early as a person’s late 40s. LBD is named after Dr. Frederic Lewy, who worked in conjunction with Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer, Patrick said.
One of the earliest LBD indicators is the sudden development of a sleep disorder, Patrick said. Acting out dreams is a common manifestation. From there, short-term memory loss begins. Next, process loss is a common symptom. Tying shoes and brushing teeth can become arduous, Patrick noted.
It can take several years to properly diagnose LBD from the time symptoms start. As LBD progresses further, Patrick said patients begin to lose body control. It typically takes five to seven years from diagnosis until LBD completely rules the patient’s life. However, for some it takes only six months, Patrick said.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for LBD. If caught early, doctors can attempt to treat the symptoms. However, it is a degenerative mental and physical disease. To date, Alzheimer’s disease has garnered much of the attention and research dollars associated with dementia, Patrick noted.
“There are not a lot of specific studies on Lewy body dementia,” Patrick said. “A lot isn’t known about this disease. More research is needed.”
Blakely, her sisters and mother hope to raise awareness of this horrific disease with this first 5K race. Mayor Bill Jenks, III has thrown in the city’s support by naming Sept. 22 Lewy Body Dementia Awareness Day.
“This has been a very challenging experience for my family,” Blakely said. “Hopefully, we can raise some money to help boost awareness and research for this disease. Above all, I hope that no one else has to go through this.”