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Gift of Life ambassador shares story of resilience

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:38 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Many Vermonters are familiar with The Gift of Life Marathon, the annual blood drive hosted in Rutland each December. One of its ambassadors, Stefanie Schaffer, who lost both her legs in a 2018 boat explosion, shared her story with an audience Tuesday about why she believes so strongly in the cause.

Stefanie Schaffer has been an ambassador for the Gift of Life Marathon since 2019, promoting the event through her own story.

In December of 2018, she was in the Bahamas on a tour boat when it exploded. As a result of the accident, Schaffer lost both legs, was in a coma for a month, had organ failure, a broken spine, and an injured and traumatized brain. But the hospital had something she needed to survive. “They had donated blood that was readily available and my life was saved from those donations,” she said.

Over the following years, Schaffer learned to walk again and drive a car, but she was in such pain she had to undergo additional surgeries which were followed by more complications. “As soon as I woke up from that surgery, I knew that something was different,” Schaffer said. She says she tried to put her prosthetic legs back on and discovered she could no longer walk.

But her determination took flight. “I got on a plane, I flew to California and joined an intensive physical rehabilitation program. Ten weeks later, I was walking once more,” she recalled.

After three years, Schaffer says she is walking into a life of her own again. For comfort and ease, she uses a walker for assistance. “But I am using crutches more often now and I guess the goal is to be able to take a few steps without anything and just increase the distance I can go and the ease in which it’s done -- which it comes every day -- but it’s definitely a slow process,” she said.

Her advice is to not compare your own physical pain and struggles to somebody else’s. And mentally, Schaffer says watch for the little moments that are often overlooked. “When I’m feeling really down, I try to remind myself of the family that is around me or the things that I do still have. There are amazing things happening every day, but you only see the things you choose to look for,” she said.

Schaffer has written a book that is expected to be released in February.

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