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Rutland woman writes about regaining her mobility after deadly accident

book cover image of memoir by Stefanie Schaffer.jpeg
Hasmark Publishing International
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Stefanie Schaffer
This hour, we talk with Rutland resident Stefanie Schaffer about her memoir, "Without Any Warning: Casualties Of A Caribbean Vacation."

Rutland resident Stefanie Schaffer was on vacation in the Bahamas in 2018 when her life changed forever. During what should have been a fun boat excursion to a nearby island, the boat she and others were traveling on exploded, killing one passenger and injuring nearly a dozen others, including Schaffer. 

In her new memoir, Without Any Warning: Casualties Of A Caribbean Vacation, Schaffer writes about her physical recovery, mental health, body image, her family and community and her dog.  

She remembers what started out as a beautiful day, with her family getting onto the boat and taking off.

“Three minutes into it … that’s when the memories stop,” she said to during an interview on Vermont Edition.

An explosion right below her feet left her with a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, her lower legs amputated, and damage to her kidney, liver and spleen. She also had broken many limbs. After undergoing dozens of surgeries and countless hours of rehabilitation, she’s now mobile again, with the help of a wheelchair or crutches and prosthetic legs. 

“I think of finishing school, beginning a career, driving a car, traveling, dating, marriage, starting a family and every little thing in between, and each task comes with a giant question mark and a feeling of helpless impossibility,” she writes.

“These thoughts are the ones that terrify me and pull me under that line of depression I try so desperately to stay above. … And as I feel and weigh and contemplate the uncertainty of my future, I now also see that future in the growing light of possibility.”

Schaffer said she was thankful to the nurses who scheduled an appointment with a mental health professional. As she went through therapy, she said she “could feel the pain leaving my body.”

She says she's also grateful to the members of her community who came together to help. On the day after she returned home, a group was outside building a wheelchair ramp into her house.

Throughout her recovery, she was inspired by other people with prosthetics. She said she began to see herself like them. “I just was very determined that that was going to be my end result,” she says.

She began to get back into sports, including biking and cross-country skiing. Her neighbor, who uses a hand cycle, lent her one and took her on her first bike ride.

Schaffer, a frequent social media user, says posting images of herself was hard at first. “I was very embarrassed for a very long time, but I think it came from the work that I was putting into my physical recovery, and seeing just how hard I was trying at that. It made me feel strong. And then, feeling strong makes you feel worthy of being seen as a strong person again.”

In the end, she says her body image is better now than before her accident.

“It made me have to confront everything that I had never liked about myself and just say, this is what it is and I have to either spend my life hating it or I can just accept it and love myself for what I look like, no matter what,” she says.

Listen to the full interview to hear more about Schaffer's plans for the future, and how her dog Oliver helped her persevere in her recovery.

Broadcast on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Mikaela Lefrak on Twitter @MikaelaLefrak.

Mikaela Lefrak joined VPR in summer 2021 as co-host and senior producer of 'Vermont Edition'. Prior to that, she was a reporter and host at WAMU in Washington, D.C.
Tedra joined VPR as a producer for Vermont Edition in January 2022. Before moving to Vermont, she was a journalist in New York City for 20 years. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University.