Town rallies for employee with multiple sclerosis

Fundraiser planned to help Mattapoisett man pay for wheelchair
By Georgia Sparling | Apr 03, 2017
Photo by: Georgia Sparling Rob Daener's friends and coworkers are raising money to help him purchase a new standing wheelchair.

Mattapoisett — Rob Daener is generally averse to attention, and he doesn’t like to ask for help. Too bad he’s a really nice guy with a need.

On April 8, hundreds are expected to gather at the Knights of Columbus for a fundraiser to help Daener, who has multiple sclerosis, purchase a new standing wheelchair that will help slow muscle atrophy and improve circulation.

Daener, a 28-year veteran of the Mattapoisett Highway Department, was diagnosed with MS in 2002. Although no longer able to do physical labor, he has continued as the department’s foreman and administrative assistant. But working full-time has meant that Daener doesn’t qualify for many disability benefits.

Melody Pacheco, the Town Administrator’s assistant, learned about Daener’s need for a new wheelchair from his doctor, who asked if she could put on a fundraiser. A long-time organizer of community events, Pacheco has also worked side-by-side with Daener for years and was happy to help.

“Even when he has a bad day, he doesn’t have a bad day,” she said.

Pacheco rallied the Knights of Columbus and Mattapoisett Lions Club to bring the event together, complete with food and music at the Knights’ hall. More than a week before the event, tickets were dwindling as Daener’s friends poured into Pacheco’s office with donation after donation.

Daener “likes to fly under the radar” said his wife Katie, a librarian at the Mattapoisett Library, but the couple is grateful for the help.

The standing wheelchair is a steep $25,000-$30,000, and while insurance does cover part of the cost, the Daeners would still need to come up with thousands of dollars to pay for it on their own. That, coupled with Daener’s other medical expenses, makes the purchase unrealistic.

“It’s not cheap to have MS,” said Daener said. “I continue to work everyday. I don’t qualify for help for a lot of medical devices. It’s very frustrating.”

Even his current motorized chair was a hand-me-down, for which Daener said he is grateful.

“There are a lot of people in very similar situations that don’t get the same support and opportunities that I do,” he said.

Still, the chair doesn’t give him as much mobility as he needs. The new chair will allow him to stand up and adjust to different positions.

“[Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission] told me I made too much money. There’s not much help for somebody that’s helping themselves and just needs a little help,” Daener said.

Of course, he could stay at home and collect disability, but that’s not an option Daener plans to entertain any time soon.

“Working is part of my therapy. It’s what keeps my life normal,” Daener said.

And he is fairly indispensable at work, said his boss, Highway Surveyor Barry Denham.

Anyone who has ever listened to the police scanner during a snowstorm can attest to Daener’s dedication. While the other highway workers plow and sand all night, Daener mans the phones and dispatches trucks to every corner of town.

“[The disease] doesn’t at all limit his effectiveness here at work,” said Denham.

Now folks in town have the opportunity to honor Daener’s hard work with the fundraiser, through which Pacheco hopes to raise at least $10,000. The event itself, with live music from local musicians, homemade desserts, raffles and more, promises to be a party to remember.

For his part, Daener said he’s thankful but also nervous about being in the spotlight. He wishes he could be back at his job like in the old days.

“I’m a little apprehensive. I don’t like to be the center of attention,” he said. “In a perfect world, I’d rather be working beside them.”

Pacheco said donations are still being accepted at the Town Hall and there may be some tickets available. Stop by her office or call 508-758-4100 for more information.

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