Neil Hasen – Unsung Hero

Neil Hasen is a truck driver for Hidden Creek Transportation out of Somerset, Kentucky and his work during the pandemic has earned him recognition as an Unsung Hero by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

Nearly four years ago, Neil's life changed dramatically when a car hit him and his wife while they were riding his motorcycle. The accident severed Neil's right leg, however, one of his first thoughts after it happened was that he was going back to work. After graduating from Duval High School in Lincoln County in 1998, Neil followed the examples set by his father and grandfather when he went to work in the coal mines.

Later, Neil attended Boone County Truck Driving Academy and became a professional truck driver so he could have more stable work.

DRS helped Neil to obtain a prosthetic leg with a computerized knee that gave him more flexibility. He taught himself to walk again and to drive, using his left leg to accelerate and brake.

Before he could resume his professional truck driving career, Neil had to prove he was capable by obtaining his commercial driver's license (CDL) again, as well completing several other requirements.

Neil drives a truck with a 53-foot box trailer, hauling groceries, clothes, mail, beer, whiskey, medical supplies and more to destinations across the lower 48 states. He leaves home for two to three weeks at a time, driving at least 11 hours every day while he's out on a run. When he's working, there's no such thing as a sick day. After 21 days, he gets a 34-hour break.

The pandemic has caused an already difficult job to be even more challenging.

Some of Neil's biggest issues during this time have revolved around finding food, a place to shower and a safe place to sleep at night. As states locked down, these things became extremely difficult to find.

His tractor-trailer is about 80 feet long and the places that accommodate these types of vehicles are specialized. Going through a McDonald's drive-through window is not an option for Neil and others in his position. He has literally gone for days eating only the food he can carry in his truck and when you are on the road for three weeks at a time, that's very limited. While he has a small refrigerator, it only holds six cans of soda and the weight requirements for his truck and lack of space further restrict the food supplies he can carry with him.

Neil indicated that his access to food improved as lockdowns have been lifted. Now, he can usually find places that have a phone number to order a hot meal and he can pick it up outside the establishment. Prior to that, he was existing on bags of potato chips and peanut butter crackers.

Neil also had difficulty finding secure places to park and sleep at night. With so many truck stops and rest areas closed, there were not a lot of alternatives available and pulling off the road in a place like downtown Chicago was not a safe option.

But one of the most difficult challenges for Neil has been the lack of contact with other people because of the pandemic. Processes for loading and unloading cargo have changed dramatically since COVID-19 became such a problem.

When arriving at a destination, there is a phone number for him to call and they instruct him on the process. He typically unlocks his trailer, leaves necessary paperwork in the back, backs his trailer into the designated loading dock, and waits until he receives a green light to pull out once his cargo is either loaded or unloaded. There is essentially no close contact with anyone during the process.

Neil's wife used to travel with him a lot before the pandemic started, which made his days easier and less lonely. However, she has been staying home to help her younger relatives with technology issues related to virtual schooling. Now Neil is lucky to have a short phone call with her during the day.

The increased stress that Neil faces every day is just something that he has to deal with – the situation and the nature of his job really do not provide him much of an outlet to release the frustration. He just has to smile and keep on moving.

DRS Rehabilitation Counselor Tonya Wallace nominated Neil for the Unsung Heroes recognition based on his overwhelming success at going back to work after his drastic accident and for his essential role during the unprecedented circumstances of the global pandemic.

Neil, however, does not feel like he's doing anything special. He is just doing what he is supposed to do and that's providing for his family.