In Bill Hackett’s family, they’re fond of two sayings:
Everything is working out for us.
We’re right where we’re supposed to be.
Those aphorisms have been stress tested these past six months, after the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish kicker suffered a serious heart attack Jan. 23 that required life-saving surgery. Bill, a self-employed catastrophe adjuster, lacked health insurance at the time he was stricken.
Hackett spent four nights in the intensive care unit at Eastside Medical Center, Snellville, Ga. The amount the family now owes is substantial, but Bill is focused on the positive.
“I’ve got more love to give and I’ve got more things to do,” he said, noting he got a second chance that one out every three people with heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases don’t get.
Hackett and his wife, Pam, were overwhelmed by the support they received from hundreds of Notre Dame fans after an appeal for financial support in February, especially subway alumni.
“Regardless of the news and all the crap that you hear, and all the bad that we hear every day on the news, there’s so much love out there,” he said. “There’s so many people that are so loving that doesn’t get covered. It’s unbelievable the amount of support that we received just through strangers, all because I played on that damn team in 1988, you know?”
That was quite a damn team. The Irish, led by legendary coach Lou Holtz, amassed a 12-0 record on their way to the program’s 11th national championship.
Splitting duties with Reggie Ho, Hackett made three field goals in four tries for the ’88 squad, including a 45-yard field goal to open scoring in the National Championship Game. The following year, Hackett was 7-for-8 while splitting time with Craig Hentrich.
Hackett said many of his former teammates reached out after he was stricken. Recently, he’s been trading text messages with Rocket Ismail. Hackett and his wife will be attending a Lou’s Lads fundraiser the weekend of the Georgia Bulldogs game and hope to see Bill’s former teammate.
“He’s always been a wonderful guy,” Hackett said of Ismail. “But I think the older he gets, the more wonderful he becomes.”
Hackett’s community has also chipped in where it could. The Helping One Guy (HOG) charity, based in Kennesaw, Ga., has offered to do a dinner for the family’s benefit. The group has helped families of Sept. 11 first responders and honored several other heroes.
Hackett said he told the group’s founder, Bob Kelly: “‘I’m not sure I’m worthy of all this.’ And he looked me right in the eye and he said, ‘You know what? You are a hero. You might be a Sept. 11 hero. But you are a hero. You’re a hero to your family and you need help.’”
Hackett has two daughters, Mae, 5, and Sarah, 9. He said it’s been hard not to be able to hold his 5-year-old because of the strain it may put on his heart. And while he still gets winded while talking for a sustained period, a 13-week cardio rehabilitation has left him feeling better both physically and mentally.
“The mental aspect of this whole thing is tough, because every little jolt or every little feeling you have inside, you think, ‘Oh God, what’s going on? Am I going to be OK? Is something going to happen? Are my stints going to hold?’” he said. “But cardio gives you more confidence to say, ‘Hey listen, I can run on a treadmill. I can walk and run and go for 45 minutes and have my heart rate increase like that.’”
Hackett said he’s been working about half as much as he used to, and admitted the physical demands of the job - such as climbing on a roof - “gets a little iffy right now.” The family recently decided to leave Georgia and relocate to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to be closer to relatives and job opportunities for both Bill and Pam.
Hackett said companies he’s worked with in Atlanta can use him for claims in Nashville, about 40 minutes away. The former kicker said he’s excited about forming new relationships with members of the Notre Dame Club of Nashville.
“Tell everybody out there to pass it along,” Hackett implored. “Giving is the same as receiving is something that I’ve found here. To help somebody, not only do you help somebody, but it also makes you feel good inside. And I think that’s something that we all need to be aware of and spend more time doing — helping other folks. We’re all about the love here. Sometimes that gets real cliche when you say stuff like that. But really that’s what it’s all about. I’ve really experienced that over the past five months. It’s really kept me motivated to keep going on. You know, it’s been awesome.”