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Two years ago at this time, Nick Hacker was riding the wave of victory after he won election to the North Dakota Senate in District 42. This year, the just-completed election in neighboring districts is the farthest thing from his mind.

Two years ago at this time, Nick Hacker was riding the wave of victory after he won election to the North Dakota Senate in District 42. This year, the just-completed election in neighboring districts is the farthest thing from his mind.

Hacker's wife, Elizabeth, is suffering from a rare blood disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH.

"Life goes above and beyond politics and careers. The most precious things are love and health," Hacker said this week, describing the difference between the last election season and this one.

Nick and Elizabeth Hacker were married Aug. 12 in Grand Forks. They spent their honeymoon in Jamaica, and came back to the region to settle down.

Elizabeth originally is from Langdon, N.D., a 2005 UND alumna and currently a speech pathology teacher at Larimore (N.D.) Elementary School. Nick is from Alexandria, Minn., a graduate of UND, and served as the youngest state senator in North Dakota history during the 2005 legislative session.


Less than one month after their marriage, Liz started to get sick.

High fever

Liz Hacker was admitted Sept. 11 to MeritCare Hospital in Fargo with high fevers ranging from 106 to 107 degrees. When the hospital ran blood tests, they found her blood was having trouble clotting.

Initially, the doctors thought she could have human granulocytic ehrlichiosis, a very rare disease carried by ticklike insects. It was assumed that she contracted the disease on her trip to Jamaica.

Liz was released from the hospital Sept. 14, feeling much better, according to her family. The feeling didn't last long though, as the high fever returned only three days later.

The ailment remained a mystery for some time before doctors identified the Epstein-Barr virus in her system, and that led them to a different diagnosis.

The Epstein-Barr virus, known to most doctors as EBV, is one of the more common viruses worldwide. About 95 percent of adults have been infected by age 40, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

When the virus is coupled with an infection, it often causes mononucleosis. In the rarest of cases, usually happening in children up to age 2, EBV gives way to the disease now affecting Elizabeth Hacker, HLH.


The virus is diagnosed as HLH only in about one out of every million infants. That Hacker is an adult with HLH is even more rare, said Dr. Michael Burke, a specialist in pediatric hematology and oncology at the University of Minnesota Fairview Children's Hospital.

Little miracles

Nick and Liz's families wait day by day in the intensive care unit of Fairview Medical Center to see what the doctors have to say next.

Elizabeth's mother, Peg Granlund, is keeping a daily journal of her daughter's progress on the Web site www.caringbridge.com/visit/elizabethhacker/ . There have been more than 125,000 visits to the Web site.

In the journal, Granlund describes the use of cutting-edge techniques and new medicines being administered. She ends each journal entry with hope and prayer and asks all those visiting to pray, as well.

"We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support by friends, family and complete strangers," Granlund said. "Now, all we're asking for is prayer. Liz has had many little miracles. She just needs a really big one."

Since being at Fairview, Hacker has undergone surgeries to combat an abdominal infection and is receiving multiple blood transfusions every day. She had been unconscious for weeks, but Wednesday night she opened her eyes.

She currently is intubated and can't talk, but can respond to the people around her by blinking. She was able to communicate with her husband for the first time in almost a month. And Wednesday night, she finally got to see her wedding pictures.


Thursday evening, Granlund reported that Hacker's bleeding had slowed, showing some signs of clotting, making a positive step in a struggle that has been constant.

The support surrounding her does not end in Minneapolis.

Hacker was an active member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority at UND, and her sisters are rallying as much community support as they can.

Mel Mortinson, Hacker's sorority sister, and other friends are organizing fundraisers to help draw support, both emotional and financial, for Hacker and her family.

Her sorority sisters are doing their part to help as well.

"We are giving blood like no other," said Gamma Phi Jen Kasperson.

Greatest win

Stacey (Horter) Dahl was Nick Hacker's running mate two years ago and shared her sympathies for Nick and his new bride. "It seems really unfair for this to happen. She is the kindest person you'll ever meet, and Nick loves her to pieces.


"If we wouldn't have won (the election), life would have gone on. This is a much bigger roller coaster than that would have ever been," said Dahl.

"For her to overcome this virus would be the greatest win I could ever ask for," said Nick.

To raise support for Liz, her family has ordered pink bracelets that say "LizStrong" on them, a play on the Lance Armstrong "LIVESTRONG" bracelets. They're pink because that is her favorite color, and the inscription implies not only her strong will and strong body but also her strong faith, according to her mother.

The bracelets are available at the F & M Bank in Langdon and at Langdon schools. Liz's family says they will be available elsewhere soon. Keep checking the Web site for more information.

Friends and family around the community are eager to talk about Liz's bubbly and positive personality, saying she is never in a bad mood and always the first to help out someone hurting.

Those same friends and family are now rallying around her to show the same compassion she showed them.

Welling up with emotion making it hard to talk, Liz's mother said one thing to sum up how this journey is going: "I believe with my whole heart that because so many people are praying for her, that she will make it through."

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