Jack Hanna, a leading animal conservationist, traveled the globe promoting conservation efforts. He once said that whenever he wanted to spread ashes, he would do so in Columbus, his home for decades. He still runs his own Emmy-winning animal series in syndication, which captivated national audiences on David Letterman’s late-night talk show. He then built the Columbus Aquarium and Zoo, becoming one of the best in the nation.
However, at this particular moment, none of that past seems recognizable.
Jack hesitates, then inquires, “Have I ever visited Columbus, Ohio?”
The Jack Hanna that the world once knew is no longer here.
Alzheimer’s disease has erased his recollection and the experiences he had while being in the spotlight for nearly fifty years at the age of 76. The majority of his immediate relatives are now unfamiliar to him; however, the illness has progressed to the extent that he was initially diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s in autumn 2019.
The old Jack, who enchanted nearly everyone he met with his funny stories and farm boy charm from Tennessee, is no longer wearing the famous outback leather hat and khakis that made him so well-known.
Jack, the oldest daughter of Kathaleen, travels nearly 5,000 miles from England to take care of her dad. The only thing that remains now is his wife, Suzi, and their dog, Brassy. Suzi asks if she has fed the dog a couple dozen times a day. He worries that the air coming out of the vents might be hurting everything on the Christmas tree. He spends hours baking himself in the sun on the back deck of his lakeside home.
Jack complained to Suzi that he had forgotten to keep the contact lenses his doctor had inserted, resulting in him ending up blind in both eyes.
Q&A: Families fighting against Alzheimer’s disease are not alone. What you should be aware of.
At the Columbus Zoo, he typically dresses himself in a rhino enclosure with a worn-out, tan baseball hat, a T-shirt, and jeans. Instead of a strained, empty expression, he now wears a perpetual smile, and to avoid any further eye contact mishaps, he sports black-framed glasses. His complexion is a deeper tan, he has lost around 20 pounds, and the public absolutely adores the man who closely resembles Jack.
Revolving around their residence and expansive 50-acre agricultural estate, their existence has been confined within a 30-mile span in Northwest Montana for approximately two years; however, the couple, who have been together for 54 years, previously embarked on global voyages.
Towards Suzi, anger or frustration often leads to outbursts. Any disruptions to his daily routine can disturb the continuity of his previous life. The man who has little memory of his past is soothed by even the slightest change in his regular routine. The slightest alteration to his daily routine is considered an enemy in Jack’s mind.
Confined within the washing machine for unknown reasons, Jack cautiously navigates through the household, persistently inspecting the front door for any signs of activity. Besides Jack, there is little else to occupy their days. The farm was put on the market last month, making the maintenance too burdensome, and until recently, they used to visit their farm to provide sustenance to their two donkeys. They embark on a leisurely 2-mile stroll in the late morning. For his mid-morning meal, he consumes a bowl of blueberries, three scrambled eggs with cheese sandwiched in between, bacon, tomatoes, and two waffles generously slathered with butter and syrup. Jack experiences restlessness at night and often struggles to fall asleep until 2 a.M. Or even later – a typical occurrence for individuals with Alzheimer’s. He and Suzi relive the same day repeatedly.
Suzi expressed, “Within that place, my spouse still exists.” “There are yet those delightful, gentle instances – you know, fragments of him that captivated me and the rest of humanity. Occasionally, it is challenging. Truly challenging. Nevertheless, throughout all those years, he provided for me, and now it is my responsibility to provide for him.”
As per the NIA, it is the most prevalent source of cognitive decline among individuals above the age of 65 and the seventh primary reason for mortality among grown-ups in the United States. According to the National Institute on Aging, there are approximately 24 million individuals globally who are currently residing with Alzheimer’s disease. As per the Alzheimer’s Association, this marks the initial occasion when the Hanna family has openly addressed their battle with an ailment that affects an estimated 6.7 million individuals in the United States.
When the battle against Alzheimer’s becomes too much to bear, the Hannas are sharing Jack’s narrative to ensure that other families are aware they are not isolated.
“It may be difficult to comprehend or grasp, but he continues to engage in that action at present,” Kathaleen expressed. “He dedicated his entire life to assisting anyone he possibly could. If this benefits even a single additional family, it is definitely more than worthwhile to disseminate our father’s narrative.”
One stroll at a time
Jack comes to a halt by the initial tree he spots, just a few strides into their regular walk along the river trail, approximately 5 miles away from his residence.
“Hello tree, you are a beautiful tree,” Jack expresses. “I adore you tree. God bless.”
Jack, the preacher who performs blessings in front of the church, knows exactly what it means. He holds it in his hands and later takes a few steps, touching the leaves on the tree next to him.
Sometimes, Jack tempts fate by reaching far too over the tree-lined rocky ledge where the River Swan races below, scaring him and Suzi and Kathaleen. Again and again, he takes another risk.
Jack is questioned about why he caresses the trees, but he simply expresses his affection for them and proceeds along the trail.
At Muskingum College, they became enamored as college lovers when they couldn’t envision experiences involving both creatures and individuals from diverse cultures worldwide that accompanied them on their global escapades, granting them a life reminiscent of their past. The life that entailed globetrotting together evokes memories of their previous existence, and the hikes serve as a reminiscent reminder. Despite having undergone two knee replacements and struggling with Alzheimer’s, Jack still manages to walk quite well, and Suzi, who is 75, remains indifferent to these challenges. However, their progress is hindered as they need more than an hour to cover a mile due to frequent stops. Suzi mentioned that this scenario unfolds nearly every day.
Suzi expressed, “I desire to maintain these strolls for as much time as I am able.” “I recall the precise day when everything commenced officially. The day the physician informed us about its nature. I’ve simply endeavored to cling onto the small fragments of Jack ever since.”
On October 3rd, when Dr. Douglas Scharre informed him about his Alzheimer’s disease, Hanna Jack started shaking his head in defiance.
“Absolutely not,” Jack exclaimed. “I do not possess that.”
Jack had every justification prepared.
Jack always said he was never good at taking tests in school. The doctor must have been wrong to make him take all those tests. He used to travel more than 200 days a year. He always knew he had attention deficit disorder, his life went at 100 mph. Even his beloved second attention span was only 20 seconds. He was famous for it. It was just an old age.
Jack, Suzi, and their daughters, Julie and Suzanne, received an explanation of the diagnosis from Scharre, a compassionate and optimistic neurologist and expert in Alzheimer’s disease, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Scharre explained that there was no doubt in his mind that the symptoms he traced back to 2017 were symptoms of Alzheimer’s. He also informed the family about the mild cognitive impairment.
Julie cried in disbelief. Suzanne’s dad was not surprised, but he was hurt because she had seen symptoms in the past year. Jack quickly darkened his mood, but Suzi knew what she could do to comfort him.
He dropped his head, gazed at the ground, and persisted in questioning the diagnosis as the despair took hold.
“I am aware that my brain doesn’t operate at its best sometimes, but I’m okay,” Jack stated. “No chance, I can handle this.”
Jack refrained from using the term Alzheimer’s on that particular day.
In reality, he has never spoken it, and those in his vicinity didn’t have the courage to use it either.
Jack didn’t desire the globe to be aware.
And upon their arrival back at their residence that night, he compelled Suzi to promise that the truth would remain hidden from anyone outside of their closest relatives.
Jack said that Suzi was worried if the public found out that he had a disease, he would stop working, get ready, and his career would be over.
“People will think I’m foolish, Sue,” Jack said. “We can’t reveal this to anyone, Sue. Give me your word.”
Suzi promised her spouse that she would maintain the diagnosis confidential.
The Alzheimer’s specialist stated that individuals with Jack’s condition usually have a life span of approximately eight to 12 years after initial manifestation of symptoms. The family did not inquire about life span from Scharre.
Scharre mentioned that Jack’s response was not unusual.
Scharre mentioned, “It was quite usual, nothing extraordinary.” The belief is, ‘Yes, I do have a tendency to forget, but that’s the case for others as well.’ The majority of individuals with Alzheimer’s exhibit some level of denial.
Jack had already suspected that there was something much more forgetfulness in his world before the diagnosis, but this is the reality within those months.
Jack’s passion for educating the public about animals and their habitats was evident in his television shows, where he would take them on a journey through the planet’s few remaining habitats. Sometimes, he would even forget the details and names of the animals in his shows. When he was on stage, showcasing his animal travels, Jack would often forget which day it was or which city he was in, leading to funny moments with his friends and family.
When he stepped onto the stage, he couldn’t recall the reason for his presence. However, in the beginning of 2019, there was a different occasion when he was tasked with introducing a long-standing acquaintance who was being honored with an accolade.
In that instance, his family, acquaintances, and colleagues would step in to vouch for him or jog his memory about his whereabouts or tasks he had to complete.
They were used to Jack’s mind racing from one thing to the next without worrying about details, but this was something different.
Suzi constantly tried to cover him during filming, but there she could only do so much. Jack Nickerson answered the questions that he had already asked three minutes later. When they were going to see the gorillas and they were meeting, Jack explained all the details of their trip to Rwanda. While producing some of the last episodes of Jack’s popular television show “Into the Wild” in the fall of 2018, they noticed the first decline in Jack’s longtime business partner and friend, Guy Nickerson.
There was no longer a presence there due to the strong bond, according to Nickerson, with the man he regards as a figure resembling both a father and a brother during Jack’s most recent significant journey to South Africa in November 2019.
Nickerson, residing in Tampa, Florida, expressed, “Jack was unaware of the person he was conversing with, and at the beginning, we had scheduled an interview with a renowned figure in the realm of animals and a close associate of Jack.”
I never said a word to Jack or Suzi but felt like the beginning of the end. I knew there was something medically wrong, but I didn’t know about the diagnosis until the rest of the world. It was hard to watch all of that; I love Jack so much.
He formally retired on December 31, 2020. In June 2020, he publicly announced his plan to retire from the Columbus Aquarium and Zoo after 42 years. His last theater performance with animals on stage was canceled due to the COVID pandemic, which started in March 2020. Shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Jack quietly began making plans to retreat from public life.
Kathaleen found it difficult to hold back tears while walking back on the river trail, as it was a poignant reminder for her parents to see her in public.
Kathaleen stated, “He would have labored until his final breath. Because of the Alzheimer’s, he merely retired. He felt ashamed about it. The populace would discover, he resided in terror.”
‘My teeth are in good condition.’
As soon as Jack hears the word dentist, he immediately returns to the car.
He requires a lasting crown on one tooth and a cavity addressed on another.
In order to visit the dentist, she persuades him that she is the individual who requires it, and he will remain beside her, holding her hand, until Suzi deceives him; only then will he leave the car seat.
The gentle, compassionate husband emerges briefly until Jack notices the dentist’s chair.
He is aware that he is the patient of today and angrily stares at his wife.
“Sue, my dental health is good,” Jack exclaims with an escalating tone. “Let’s head home. We need to nourish our dog.”
Suzi and the dental professional persuade Jack to sit in the chair, where he persists in protesting repeatedly.
Suzi grasps Jack’s hand as the dentist places the needle into Jack’s gum.
Suzi holds Jack to calm him until he tries to get out of the chair, numbing the pain and causing him to squeal, but the dentist uses the same gentleness with the toddler.
Jack remains in the chair for over two hours, with Kathaleen and Suzi taking turns comforting him, as his teeth are being fixed.
Suzi despises witnessing her spouse in agony and detests deceit even more, but the family has endured much graver circumstances.
Suzi remarked, “It would have devastated him if Jack was unaware of the events. I’m extremely relieved that we are capable of overcoming any obstacles, just as we did a few years back.”
If they failed to do so, she would lose the ability to walk as doctors, out of concern, surgically extracted an additional tumor from Jack’s daughter’s spinal cord on March 25, 2021.
Jack was only 2 years old when Hanna, his old friend, died almost from leukemia. It caused a lifetime of chronic pain from surgeries and tumors, but then Julie saved his life by undergoing primitive radiation treatment. The worst moments of his life were when he was watching helplessly behind a glass wall, trying to save her while doctors said there was nothing they could do.
Jack didn’t really understand what was happening to his youngest daughter, but he had advanced Alzheimer’s and wasn’t even able to be at the hospital during this time.
Suddenly, the Hanna family was thrust into a new fight as Jack’s legacy continued, causing Julie to suffer from severe pain.
Stalf and other high-ranking officials eventually agreed to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the zoo. The zoo’s board confirmed that improper spending and questionable business practices by the former top two executives led to over $630,000 in losses. A forensic audit conducted by the board revealed their extensive personal use of zoo resources, which was further investigated by the newspaper. As a result, Tom Stalf, the former zoo president and CEO, and Greg Bell, the former chief financial officer, resigned on March 29, 2021, as reported by The Columbus Dispatch, a member of the USA TODAY Network.
Jack had not been a actively engaged manager of the zoo since 1992 and was not directly involved in the zoo’s administrative conflict.
In 2010, he helped Stalf join the zoo as its chief operating officer. And he did have a close relationship with Stalf.
Right on the outskirts of the zoo, Julie, who is currently 48 years old, was brought to the Hanna family residence and ultimately discharged from the hospital on April 3, 2021.
While the family took care of her and attempted to comprehend the zoo dispute, the next shock was administered.
After the cameras ceased filming, the tiger cubs and snow leopards that rested on Jack’s lap during late-night talk shows frequently did not originate from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and did not return there. The Hannas discovered on April 5, 2021, that a recently produced documentary named “The Conversation Game” would be made available to the general public.
Exotic cats were believed to have originated from accredited facilities, where they were moved between and from which they came.
The Columbus Zoo ultimately lost its accreditation for nearly 18 months as a result of the aftermath.
Some close to the Hannas believe that Jack displayed indifference towards the removal and return of animals to locations where they suffered mistreatment or neglect, as depicted in the documentary.
The following two days would be among the most dreadful, as the Hanna family expressed that they had ever encountered.
There were tears and fury and discussions on how to manage it all.
Kathaleen, the protector of her family, wanted to rush out in front of the television cameras and defend her father. She thought that watching the documentary might only add fuel to the story and others might not have decided yet whether to watch it.
Kathaleen mentioned that Jack had no knowledge of any of the disputes.
Kathaleen expressed, “It was a dreadful experience – a complete nightmare.” He would never knowingly allow animals to suffer. It’s not true, and he couldn’t even defend himself. Throughout his life, my dad always faced these challenging situations. I wish all the issues could have been handled better by the people my dad worked with. Yes, it’s fair to say that my dad believes we should have more knowledge about animals. He was always so quick and efficient. He always wanted every animal to return to a safe and secure environment. The most important thing in his life was dedicating himself to protecting animals. It was all so heartbreaking.
Jerry Borin had a prime seat for Jack the entertainer’s performances for nearly four decades.
Jack and Jerry met back in 1984 when they were working in the Department of Recreation and Parks in Columbus, transforming a dilapidated place into a world-class destination loved by those who adore animals at the Columbus Zoo.
Borin returned to the zoo as the interim CEO approximately eight months ago, following the resignation of the zoo executives in 2021. Additionally, Borin served as the zoo’s executive director from 1993 to 2008.
When Borin came back to the zoo in 2021, he found himself in a chaotic situation regarding the accreditation matter.
“He said that the records or paper trail left behind by those who were responsible for acquiring and tracking the animals were unsatisfactory. According to him, his long-time friend deserves criticism for not being attentive to the origins of some of the animals used on television.”
Borin said, “The records I saw were not good.” “Jack didn’t provide any specific details.” I don’t think I know what exactly happened, but Jack believes that it would have been fixed if someone had told him about the unaccredited places animals were coming from. The zoo is now thriving and has recovered, but it was definitely a massive crisis.
Jack’s evening began with perplexing and infuriating questions when he saw his own picture on the screen. Unbeknownst to Jack, his family members were keeping him away, and the controversies were unfolding without his knowledge.
He believed that Suzi had betrayed him and informed the press about the Alzheimer’s disease.
Suzi exclaimed, “You assured me Sue, you assured,” he simply continued uttering, ‘Sue, you informed them, didn’t you?’. “He wouldn’t have comprehended,” she mentioned, “If we had attempted to inform him, it would have shattered Jack’s spirit to learn about what was happening at the zoo.”
However, ultimately, with certain individuals demanding a public response from Jack, the family concluded that they had no alternative.
The family was aware that to exaggerate Jack’s condition and avoid media attention, some individuals would accuse them. It was the time to inform the world about Jack’s Alzheimer’s.
However, Suzi did not want to betray Jack’s wishes, even though Kathaleen had advocated for a long time to make it public, his legacy was more significant.
On April 7, 2021, the family released a brief declaration revealing that Jack was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
In the upcoming days, the Hanna family received condolences from numerous individuals.
That included the famous person Jack was connected with the most – David Letterman.
Four times about it repeated he. Show the from beaver a about story famous a retold Jack with Letterman, that call on.
They refrained from mentioning the term Alzheimer’s, apprehensive that her spouse might overhear it. This led Suzi to hastily retreat to another room while the conversation was being broadcast, and Letterman comprehended the challenges the family was facing, and he even made reference to it at one juncture.
Until now, Jack remains unaware that his family disclosed to the public that he has Alzheimer’s.
“It devastated me,” Suzi said, “to violate that commitment.”
Therapy for families
In the kitchen, Jack retreats and takes a well-deserved break from the scorching Montana sun, while all four women whom he dedicated his life to are shedding tears.
Julie and Suzanne are sitting at the table with Kathaleen while Suzi, his wife, is on the phone at home in Cincinnati.
Jack takes a seat at the end of the table and begins eating a bowl of grapes, completely unaware that Suzanne’s daughter feels like she has been forgotten by him.
Jack’s Alzheimer’s has now progressed from moderate to advanced, according to his wife and daughters.
Suzanne informs her mother and siblings, “I served as his offspring, he possessed no knowledge whether it occurred face-to-face or via telephone, he simply ceased recollecting my identity entirely. Due to my early marriage and relocation, I speculate that it is because he had limited encounters with me.”
Suzi perceives the anguish in her daughter’s voice and tries to ascertain if Jack can recall Suzanne.
“Can you express your affection for her?” Inquires Suzi. “Jack, Suzanne is on the telephone. She is your offspring; can you greet her?”
Jack has no idea who is on the opposite side of the phone. However, eventually he talks.
“I love you too, sweetie,” he says. “Have fun.”.Output: “I adore you as well, darling,” he states. “Enjoy yourself.”
Suzi is currently crying and confides in Suzanne that she desires to be present in Montana to embrace her.
The session known as family therapy spans multiple hours. Throughout this duration, they freely communicate their emotions with one another in ways they have never done previously.
The entire burden rests on Jack’s shoulders when it comes to taking care of responsibilities. Julie, in order to care for her father, experiences a sense of helplessness due to her own health problems being a hindrance.
Suzanne, who is 50 years old, has four grown children and helps care for Julie. She hasn’t been able to attend two of her kids’ weddings, and her dad has only met her great grandchild. She wishes she could make more trips to Montana.
In England, Kathaleen, who is 53 years old and has two teenagers and a husband, used to accompany her father on his television programs when she was a child. Throughout the years, she has managed to balance her responsibilities and support Suzi in taking care of her father, making numerous trips across the ocean.
Suzi and Jack struggled to get him up off the floor alone. For example, Jack threw his back out and couldn’t get up. Suzi can’t handle it and she can’t think of wanting to care for them alone. Suzi is reluctant to share her daughters with Jack, knowing how hard it is for him to be alone.
Monitoring Jack’s various medications and ensuring his regular intake has become a task in its own right for Suzi. In order to alleviate his Alzheimer’s symptoms, Jack requires multiple doses of medication throughout the day.
However, Suzi declines to allow home healthcare providers to enter and assist her when her daughters are unavailable.
Kathaleen, who consistently angers and frustrates, even has to arrange for her mom’s cancellation, just to help out more.
Suzi, Kathaleen expresses, “this is causing harm to you, Mom, you are 75 years old now.” “You require this, and we possess the funds. Allow us to offer you additional assistance.”
Suzi dismisses the plea.
Kathaleen relies on her sister Suzanne for support, but she does not get involved in the affectionate fight.
“I am Switzerland,” Suzanne says. “Remember?”.Output: “I am neutral,” Suzanne says. “Recall?”.
“That’s why you are the preferred one,” Suzi remarks, which elicits laughter from all three daughters.
“Thank goodness we all get along, right?” Kathaleen says in between tears.
Throughout the whole experience, Jack gazes out towards the stunning lake and is halfway through another serving of grapes.
“I simply desire for it to be your father and me for as long as possible,” Suzi expressed.
Jack emerges from his bedroom shirtless, wearing only jeans and a thick layer of shaving cream on his face. It is already mid-morning.
He pauses, surveys the room, and gives a shy grin to Suzi and his visitors, who cannot resist laughing.
This is a scheduled show; one he repeats occasionally while pretending to be Santa Claus.
Suzi stated, “Within that person remains the entertainer.” “While Jack had a deep affection for tending to animals, he had an equal passion for bringing joy to others through humor.”
As a child, people would often spot him on TV and approach him for a photo or signature, whether it was in different parts of the globe or even in Columbus. Jack couldn’t walk a few steps without someone making a request.
Even Jack Ohio, Dublin in the Memorial Tournament, would attract more attention from fans than Tiger Woods – the famous golfer.
Jack would walk back into the kitchen to say hello to dishwashers and cooks. If he signed autographs for servers in a restaurant, he left no one out. Jack didn’t care about the cultural background, skin color, or age of the people who approached him. Jack would have a more pleasant greeting for every single person who approached him.
Borin, his friend, stated, “Jack’s enduring impact lies in his role as one of the most prominent champions for animals that the world has ever witnessed. Moreover, the admiration for Jack from the general populace persists in its entirety. It is plausible that Jack’s contributions to aiding humanity outweigh his contributions to the animal kingdom.”
As the primary caregiver, those familiar with Jack’s Alzheimer’s patiently anticipate the opportune moment to embrace Suzi as a gesture of support and encourage her to persevere. However, they respect Jack and Suzi’s privacy when Jack enters a restaurant in or near this small Montana town with a population of approximately 5,000. Presently, the community members may extend a warm greeting upon Jack’s arrival at a restaurant in or near this Montana town of around 5,000 inhabitants.
Shortly after devouring his second slice of cheesecake, Jack is excited to return to his abode.
He is concerned that Brassy does not have sufficient nourishment and desires a couple of additional hours of sunbathing.
Suzi gently strokes her spouse’s forehead to alleviate the unease.
She does not try to think more about the difficult days ahead when it might end. Suzi has no idea how much longer she will say goodbye to Jack. Alzheimer’s is commonly called the long goodbye as friends and family watch their loved one slowly fade away over time.
Suzi expressed, “Those are the things remaining: the river, the sun, Brassy, our strolls. … However, fragments of my spouse exist. And I intend to hold onto them for as much time as possible. The Jack individuals were acquainted with is no longer present.”