Billy Hackett kicked off the biggest games of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s championship run in 1988. Today, his aim is on a much more serious set of goalposts: a full recovery from a serious heart attack that required life-saving surgery.
The Hacketts are raising funds to cover living expenses for their family of four while Billy recovers, rehabs and looks for a new line of work. Their modest goal of $25,000 would cover about three months of Billy’s prior income, which he earned as a property adjuster.
Doctors said Hackett’s Jan. 23 heart attack was caused by plaque buildup inside two of his coronary arteries. One was completely blocked, and required three stents to open the vessel, his wife, Pam Barrett Hackett, said Saturday via e-mail. The second was 90 percent obstructed. The medical professionals said Hackett was genetically predisposed, as relatives on both his maternal and paternal sides have suffered heart attacks or required preventative treatments.
Hackett - who handled kickoffs and long field goal tries for the Irish in 1987, 1988 and 1989 - spent four nights in the intensive care unit at Eastside Medical Center, Snellville, Ga. While he laid on the bed, he thought often of Pam and his two daughters, Mae, 5, and Sarah, 9.
“It puts a lot in perspective, staring at the ICU ceiling tiles,” he said Saturday via e-mail from his home in Lilburn, Ga. “Love your kids. Spend more good time with them. Tell them that you love them. More importantly, show them you love them.”
The Hacketts haven’t received bills for the emergency room visit, hospital stay, procedures or cardiologist consultations. Billy wasn’t insured at the time he was stricken, so the family is bracing for hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Hackett said his wife has been a model of resilience in a difficult time.
“If you want to know who you really married, have a heart attack,” he wrote. “[My wife] has truly shined over the past few weeks. Words are hard to find when I think of Pam. She’s a wonderful human being, who has taken care of me and our family through all of this.”
Hackett said he has also heard often from his Notre Dame family since the surgery, as well as those from Lou’s Lads, a charitable foundation established by players coached by Lou Holtz.
“Notre Dame is a very special place. It took me years after graduating to realize what I had accomplished. I guess a bit of growing up had to be done,” he wrote. “Now, there literally isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Notre Dame and my teammates and my friends, mostly from Cavanaugh Hall. It’s part of my makeup, my identity. The Irish spirit, the love for my school and (for) humanity burns deep. It’s a spirit of compassion towards self and others. It’s a very special place if you allow it in and embrace the true spirit of love.”
Pam Hackett said her family feels “overwhelmed” by the Notre Dame alumni outreach, whether it be via financial support, prayers or words of encouragement.
“I have never seen such loyalty and commitment in any other group of people toward other members of their community, outside of ‘blood’ family,” she wrote. “I have come to understand Billy’s extreme allegiance and affinity for his school. It is truly a rare and wonderful thing. I cannot begin to express my love for the Notre Dame family and my gratitude for the love they’ve shown us.”
Hackett was re-admitted to the hospital shortly after his surgery for chest pains, but Pam says his long-term prognosis is good. The cardiologist said that Hackett could begin to resume normal activity as his energy returns.
Hackett has spent the last 15 years handling catastrophe claims in areas hit hardest by natural disasters. He’s worked for companies that have assessed risk - and a 48-year-old with stents in his arteries is not the guy you typically send on long road trips to climb on roofs or sift through wreckage.
Pam said her husband will be looking for a new direction in his career, a job that will be less physically demanding than his last and allow him to earn an income while continuing his cardio rehabilitation therapy that doctors recommended.
More on Billy Hackett here.