In the late 1970s at a Nevada air force base, a technician accidentally exposed airman Dan Hott to a great deal of radiation, perhaps the greatest amount ever any American has received.
Dan's wife, Angie, of Berkeley Springs, W. Va., said, "Dan was radiated in the head at a rate much higher than test animals have received. He said he felt the right side of his head behind the ear heat up.
The doctor (looking him over) said he didn't know what would happen to Dan over the years, but urged him to keep the documentation (about his exposure)."
Now fast forward to 2007, when Dan was experiencing a number of physical challenges. His left arm and legs were cramping up. He dragged his left leg, and often walked like he "had been drinking alcohol," said Angie.
He was experiencing fatigue and taking naps throughout the day.
Angie realized something was really wrong when her grandmother asked Dan to slice the Thanksgiving turkey and he physically couldn't with his left hand.
In June 2008, a neurologist diagnosed Dan with Parkinson's disease. Eventually, he became so affected he would lose his business, career, income level and more physical functioning.
The National Institutes of Health describes Parkinson's disease as a "movement disorder" causing limb and face trembling, limb and trunk stiffness, slow movement, and poor balance and coordination.
It can lead to trouble walking, talking, swallowing, speaking, and chewing.
Dan had been a successful, self-employed environmental engineer. In part, through his business, he designed remediation systems for gasoline stations that had spills.
Said Angie, "Dan's neurologist now thinks it's more than likely he ended up with Parkinson's disease because of having been exposed to the radiation." However, the Hotts have had trouble persuading the Veterans Administration, which has significantly limited Dan's benefits.
Angie has done lots of research on the connection between Parkinson's disease and radiation. For example, she discovered a Department of Defense study from the early 2000s in which the government radiated test animals to see whether they would acquire Parkinson's disease.
The amount of radiation, said Angie, was far less than the level to which Dan had been exposed.
Angie also spoke with a University of California scientist who believed no other living American had been exposed to radiation levels higher than Dan's.
For more stories of courage in disability, visit www.danieljvance.com or find them on Facebook at "Disabilities By Daniel J. Vance." LittleGiantFudge.com and Palmer Bus Service made this column possible.