Jack Hanna, the zookeeper who became famous as the director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, is currently battling Alzheimer's disease, and it's getting progressively worse.
The 76-year-old was first diagnosed in fall 2019 with early Alzheimer's, and now it's gotten to the point where he doesn't even know his own family.
"The Jack people knew isn't here anymore, but pieces of my husband are," Suzi, who has been married to Hanna since 1968, said in a new interview. "And I'm going to hang onto them for as long as I can."
“He just stopped remembering who I was in all ways. Whether it was in person or by phone, he had no idea I was his daughter. I think it’s because he didn’t see me as much because I got married so young and I moved away," Suzi, who shares daughters Kathaleen, Suzanne, and Julie with Hanna, said.
Now, the TV personality apparently only knows his wife, his dog Brassy and sometimes his eldest daughter Kathaleen.
“My husband is still in there somewhere,” Suzi said. “There are still those sweet, tender moments — you know, pieces of him that made me and the rest of the world fall in love with him. It’s hard. Real hard some days. But he took care of me all those years, and so it’s my turn to take care of him.”
The Hannas want to tell this story as it is important to spread the word about this disease.
“If this helps even one other family, it’s more than worth sharing dad’s story,” Kathaleen said. “He spent a lifetime helping everyone he could. He will never know it or understand it, but he is still doing it now.”
Hanna, who retired in 2020, would have still been at the zoo and aquarium if the disease didn't take over.
“He would have worked until the day he died. He only retired due to the Alzheimer’s,” Kathaleen said. “He was embarrassed by it. He lived in fear the public would find out.”
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For now, the Late Night with David Letterman star is taking walks with Suzi as she tries to maintain their normal activities.
“I want to hold on to these walks as long as I can,” Suzi said. “I remember the day this all officially started. The day the doctor told us what it was. I’ve just tried to hang on to the little pieces of Jack since then.”
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The Columbus Dispatch interviewed Hanna's family.