When you suffer a traumatic injury or have a debilitating disorder, so many of the things you might once have taken for granted become too difficult or costly. It’s a predicament the Esposito and Benthal families know all too well.
Johanna Benthal of Jamesport, 20, has undergone nearly 100 operations for seizures and brain hemorrhages caused by CCM3, a rare genetic brain mutation. That has made riding the three-wheeled bike she once enjoyed a challenge. For Bill Esposito of Peconic, a 60-year-old retired New York City fireman who was badly injured in a crash with an unlicensed and uninsured driver in March, the money raised for home renovations left his family without additional funds for future surgeries.
Kait’s Angels, a nonprofit founded to honor Kaitlyn Doorhy of Mattituck, who was struck by a vehicle and killed near her college more than two years ago, is stepping up this weekend to help raise funds for these North Fork residents. The group will hold a community yard sale this Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Doorhy home on Ole Jule Lane in Mattituck and donate the proceeds toward purchasing a new four-wheeled bike for Ms. Benthal and supporting the fund established to assist Mr. Esposito.
“We just want to lend a helping hand,” said Darla Doorhy, Kaitlyn’s mother. “Kaitlyn’s motto was ‘You have two hands, one for yourself and one for others’ and we just want to carry that on.”
This is the second consecutive year the local charity has hosted the yard sale at the family’s home. Last year’s beneficiary was Benjamin Pileski of Mattituck, who had been struck by a car while crossing a street in Montauk.
For Ms. Benthal’s mother, Eileen, the yard sale is an answer to one of her prayers.
The Benthals are trying to raise $5,000 to purchase a Surrey Bike for Johanna to ride. Her mother said they first got the idea during a family vacation in Cape May, N.J., when mother and daughter had a chance to ride the bike together. The four-wheeled bike allows two people to pedal together — and they rode it for five miles.
“We had never done anything like that before,” Eileen said.
Afterward, the man who rented them the bike told her he could modify a bike so Johanna could use it on a daily basis. Since this was not a cheap investment, Eileen said it was something she had to think about.
Ms. Benthal said Johanna’s teacher and physical therapist both told her cycling could be beneficial. She said Johanna used to like to ride a tricycle, but can no longer do that because her balance has deteriorated and it is dangerous for her to ride on her own.
“I walked away saying a prayer to God to give me a sign if this was the right thing to do,” Ms. Benthal recalled. Four days later, she received a call from Ms. Doorhy, who asked if Kait’s Angels could do anything to help her family.
“It’s amazing, it’s really shaping up,” Ms. Benthal said.
Johanna is also going to have her own table at the yard sale with desserts she will bake and some of her art for people to purchase.
Ms. Doorhy said through donations to Kait’s Angels, they have already raised at least $500 for the family to put toward the bike.
Mr. Esposito, meanwhile, is making great strides in recovering from the crash, which occurred while he was riding his motorcycle on Route 58 in Riverhead. Despite suffering numerous fractures throughout his body, including his pelvis, he has already begun to walk only six months later. He said the overwhelming support he has received from the community is something he did not see coming.
“Words cannot even describe the feeling because it’s more than you ever expect,” he said. “I was always the guy helping, that was my job for all of those years. I never expected to be on this end of the stick. It’s all new to me.”
Since the accident, his wife, Nancy, said, they’ve had to make a lot of changes to make their home handicapped-accessible for her husband.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard,” Ms. Esposito said.
Because the person who hit Mr. Esposito had no insurance, the family had to cover more of the medical expenses and house renovations themselves. They set up a GoFundMe page that raised about $18,000 that helped pay for the home renovations, but future surgeries are looming. Mr. Esposito needs surgery on his knee, but must first build up muscle through intense physical therapy. He said his right foot was completely shattered in the accident and he foresees that as something else that will require surgery in the future. In his left leg, a nerve was damaged causing limpness in his foot, which he drags as he walks.
The family said they could use the money raised at the yard sale to help them pay for medical expenses.
“Anything goes a long way,” Ms. Esposito said, adding that their insurance only covers so much.
The couple’s 19-year-old son, also named Bill, who was studying at the University of Alabama when his father was injured, decided to take a semester off to help out his dad. Mr. Esposito said his son has motivated him in his recovery. The help from Kait’s Angels is also a major boost, his wife said.
“Kait’s Angels is helping so many people and we’re just thankful that they included us,” she said. “Bill realizes that so many people do care. That’s a big factor in his recovery.”
Ms. Doorhy said she likes the community involvement aspect of the yard sale. Items will be accepted for donation to the sale Friday, Sept. 30, from 3 to 7 p.m. only at 1125 Ole Jule Lane, Mattituck. The yard sale will take place there from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. the following day. Community members can also contribute by making baked goods to sell.
“It’s nice to see that the community is coming together again through Kait’s Angels, helping keep Kait’s memory alive through Bill Esposito and Johanna Benthal,” Ms. Doorhy said.
Top photo: Bill (center) and Nancy Esposito with their son, Bill at home in Peconic. The family is on the back deck that was built for Mr. Esposito after he was injured in March (Credit: Krysten Massa)