‘It’s A Beautiful Gift,’ World Opens Up For Daniel Hasselberger After Donated Walkway
Life has been a whirlwind for the Hasselberger family since The Newtown Bee last caught up with them in the summer of 2019.
It was there that residents got a glimpse into how Daniel Hasselberger has been beating the odds, living into his 20s with a rare brain malformation called polymicrogyria (PMG) and how his mother, Julie, navigates being a parent, caregiver, and activist chronicling her journey on YouTube.
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused its fair share of challenges for the Hasselberger household in Sandy Hook.
To help keep Daniel safe, the family made the decision to have Julie stop working as an insurance agent and put projects like launching a podcast on hold to focus on aiding Daniel full time.
Daniel, who is nonverbal, has a variety of secondary symptoms from PMG, including respiratory issues, gross motor skill delays, and erratic seizures which require him to need constant care.
In addition to Julie remaining home, Daniel’s father, John, began working from home, so no outside care would have to come into their house.
Both of Daniel’s siblings, Thomas and Sarah, also returned to the family home — from Berklee College of Music in Boston and Chapman University Fowler School of Law in Orange, Calif., respectively — when their schools closed.
“All five of us were basically on lockdown to protect Daniel’s fragile lungs and respiratory system,” Julie said.
Since then, Sarah has returned to school and, due to the difficult back strain Julie faced caring for Daniel, the family decided to bring in a nursing and therapy aid for him.
“We remain extremely cautious about COVID-19 because Daniel has a weak immune system,” Julie said, adding that life has begun to go back to normal, “slightly.”
One obstacle that plagued the family even before the pandemic was a lack of proper accessibility from the house to their backyard, which made it exceedingly difficult to maneuver Daniel in his wheelchair.
“Our yard is very soft, rocky, and the wheelchair gets stuck really easily,” Julie explained.
In the early summer, the family began to explore the possibility of getting a sidewalk from the garage to their ramp and were referred to Craig Kopfmann, owner/operator of Green Acres Landscape and Design.
“He met with us to take a look. Shortly after that, Craig called us and told us that he had people willing to donate supplies and labor, and that they would like to put in a walkway for access to the ramp, at no charge to us,” Julie said.
The pavers were supplied by Gault Family Companies.
On September 26, Kopfmann and his crew arrived at the Hasselberger home with their trucks and equipment to begin the task of putting in the walkway.
“It was very exciting, and we found out that we had some very large rocks in the way, which would have made it impossible for us to do it ourselves,” Julie said, thinking back to that pivotal day.
When digging up the ground for the walkway, Julie paid Green Acres to also install a new drainpipe underneath it to fix a broken downspout drain that was causing a leak in the basement.
“They did amazing work,” Julie said. “It was a big project for us financially, and we had some cheaper quotes, but we didn’t want anyone else to do the work. We were so grateful.”
The donated walkway project was completed a week later, on October 3, and even though Daniel could not meet Kopfmann and his team in person, due to being sick, he did get to enjoy cruising across his brand new walkway later.
“The first time I pushed Daniel’s wheelchair around the house and up onto the deck, it was surprisingly super emotional,” Julie said. “He loves sitting out there, looking at the trees, the sky, watching John blow the leaves or cut the grass.”
These simple pleasures mean a great deal to both Daniel and his family, as they are home more than ever to continue keeping Daniel safe.
“It’s a beautiful gift,” Julie said of Gault Family Companies and Green Acres Landscape and Design’s donated walkway. “It has opened up Daniel’s world, which is very limited these days, since we do not bring him out into public places.”
In the future she hopes to be able to give Daniel even more access to enjoy the outdoors and maybe have a wheelchair swing installed for him.
While the work never ends when it comes to caring for Daniel, Julie is appreciative to all those that have made and continue to make a positive difference in Daniel’s life.
Julie said, “Sometimes, it gets very isolating for me and Daniel, but we try very hard to focus on gratitude and enjoying life. We are grateful for all of Daniel’s caregivers and medical providers. As we hunkered down during the initial months of the pandemic, we only had each other, and I saw how resilient, kind, and compassionate my adult children have become. Daniel needs a village, even during a pandemic. Access to the backyard opened up a bigger world for Daniel. And one sidewalk to one ramp (also previously donated) has been a game changer. We are indeed a very grateful family.”
To learn more about Green Acres Landscape and Design, LLC, visit getgreenacreslandscaping.com. To learn more about Gault Family Companies, visit gaultfamilyco.com. For those interested in helping support Daniel Hasselberger, e-mails can be sent to his mother, Julie Hasselberger, at firstname.lastname@example.org and people can subscribe to her YouTube channel under her name.