Rutland woman who lost legs in boat explosion gets new wheels

Published: Oct. 14, 2019 at 5:34 PM EDT
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A Vermont woman who lost her legs following a deadly Bahamas tour boat explosion last year continues to recover, and now a gift from the community has given her some of her freedom back.

When we last spoke with Stephanie Schaffer in July, she told us every aspect of her life had changed since that explosion. Now, a year and-a-half later, the 23-year-old is walking again.

Prosthetics allow her to use a walker to get to her car. That's right -- she's also behind the wheel again. Her Chevrolet Equinox is specially modified with hand controls. A gift that allows her some independence and a piece of normalcy in a year of upheaval.

"It's the littlest things that end up being the biggest changes for you -- like driving. It's just something you get used to and you take for granted and all of a sudden you can't do it anymore," Schaffer said.

She's had the car since late February -- a gift from the region's Chevrolet dealers. Mark Alderman came up with the idea after seeing her story in the paper. "It took my breath away," Alderman said.

He pitched the idea to his fellow Chevy dealers -- maybe they could chip in and help her out. Robert Cody says it didn't take any convincing to get the dealerships on board. "We all felt like -- what can we do in our world that can make an impact and make a difference," he said.

"I think every dealer would say it's one of the proudest things we've ever done," Alderman said.

It was a surprise that Schaffer described as surreal. "I don't think it felt real at first. It took a couple days for it to sink in," she said.

The road to recovery has been a bumpy one for Schaffer. This summer she had another surgery to amputate one leg above the knee. The difficult decision means she isn't living in constant pain. She'll likely have to do the same to the other leg. Still, she remains resilient. She'll graduate college in December and wants to then get a master's in social work to become a trauma counselor. She says helping others makes her feel better too.

"It's very humbling to know that there are so many people out there rooting for me and it's what keeps me going on my hard days," Schaffer said.

She says some other new hobbies since the accident include handcycling, which she would not have done before. She is also starting to learn how to swim again without feet.

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