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Wadena veteran gets dream vacation while battling ALS

Wadena County Veterans Service Officer David Anderson (left) presented Joe Hundeby and his wife Teodora with their Dreams for Veterans trip in October 2017. Kim Brasel / Forum News Service1 / 6
Joe Hundeby and his service dog on Sept. 9, 2016, in New York. Submitted photo2 / 6
Joe Hundeby at basic training, August 23, 1986 at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Submitted photo3 / 6
Joe Hundeby on his Dreams for Veterans trip to San Diego in October 2017. Submitted photo4 / 6
Joe Hundeby, his wife, Teodora and their service dog on their way to San Diego in October 2017 as part of the Dream for Veterans program. Submitted photo5 / 6
Joe Hundeby's service dog enjoys the view on their Dream for Veterans trip to San Diego in October 2017. Submitted photo6 / 6

WADENA, Minn. — Meet Air Force veteran Joe Hundeby and you can't helped but be impressed by his positive attitude.

"You can choose to be positive or you can choose to be negative. Being negative just invites more misery. There's enough misery in this world."

Why should you be impressed? Because in January of this year, Joe was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A disease that has no cure, and according to the ALS Association website, for reasons that are unclear, military veterans are approximately twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease as the general public.

Hundeby served in the Air Force from 1986 to 2002 with a tour in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and a tour in Operation Noble Eagle in 2002. He trained as a combat medic and a flight medic, and also did some training with cargo specialists and administrative specialists, as well as military police.

He said he joined the military because he needed money to pay for college, and his dad was a veteran of the Korean war.

"Plus, I liked the military because I was athletic and enjoyed running and push-ups and pull-ups," he added.

His initial time in the service was the with the Army, but after graduating from college a former teammate convinced him that the Air Force was the way to go. There happened to be an Air Force National Guard close to Des Moines, Iowa, by his employer.

His two favorite assignments may come as a surprise. One is Omaha, Neb., and the other? Las Vegas. But not for the reasons you might expect.

"In Omaha, I found the climate to be very comfortable; I was also impressed with the military tradition and fascinated with the variety of jets at the base," Hundeby said. "At Nellis (Air Force Base in Las Vegas), I had a great team of service members I traveled around with. We weren't into drinking and gambling, so we would go to California and all the surrounding tourist sites."

After leaving the service, he worked in education as a high school teacher, principal and superintendent.

He had to retire last March when his condition started to rapidly decline. His wife Teodora recalls how she came home last fall to find him needing a cane.

"I was out of town, and when I left he was walking on his own, and when I came back he was using a cane. We knew something wasn't right, and we needed to find answers," she said.

They ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and a diagnosis they didn't expect.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their demise. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, people may lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe.

Hundeby is a part of the ALS association, and through that learned about Dreams for Veterans, which is apart of the Dream Foundation, an organization that serves terminally-ill adults and their families by providing end-of-life dreams that offer inspiration, comfort and closure. Dreams for Veterans tailors that to U.S. military veterans.

Hundeby applied for a dream and was awarded it — a five-day beach vacation to San Diego with his wife and service dog.

"I like to go for walks with my dog in my chair, and I thought there would be nothing better than to go down the sidewalk in front of the beach, not too much to ask," said Hundeby. "We like the sun, so I thought that would be a good place to go."

Joe and Teodora went on their vacation last week, and Joe said he is very grateful to the foundation for making the vacation possible. They enjoyed seeing the ocean, sampling some very excellent Spanish food, especially a seafood dish called sayvache. He also enjoyed watching the World Series at the resort and cheering for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Hundeby feels you either make the best of things or you don't survive. "It's quite an adjustment to be in the place that I'm in. I can't hardly lift a spoon anymore, but I'm so grateful for what I do have. Pastor Jacobson comes out to visit, that helps me more than anything. I appreciate what everyone does for me."

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