By Steve Costello
Saying she owed her life to doctors, nurses, and countless anonymous blood donors, Rutland resident Stefanie Schaffer is giving back, serving as ambassador for the 2019 Gift-of-Life Marathon Blood Drive (GOLM) – and urging blood donations.
Speaking at the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce annual meeting, where the theme was strength and resilience, Schaffer described an outpouring of community support after a 2018 boat accident that forced the amputation of her lower legs, and said blood donors were unheralded heroes.
“I would not be here today if not for heroic doctors and nurses, and the selfless donation of immeasurable pints of blood,” said Schaffer, 23, who was about to enter her senior year at Coastal Carolina University when she was injured in the boat explosion. “I received so much blood, my medical records don’t specify the amount, but instead refer to a ‘massive transfusion protocol.’
“My doctors described my survival as a miracle,” Schaffer said. “And if it’s a miracle, it is one born of heroic actions, strength and resilience, and from the blood of people I will never know, who rolled up their sleeves and donated.”
Schaffer, an active athlete, was on a family trip to the Bahamas when a boat they were in exploded. One person was killed, and Schaffer and her mother were seriously injured. Since then, Schaffer has faced multiple surgeries, counseling and extensive physical therapy, has begun to walk with prosthetics, ride a hand-cycle bike, drive with hand controls, and rebuild her strength and mobility. She expects to graduate from Castleton University in December.
Through it all, including some incredibly difficult days, Schaffer said the strength of her family and friends and the support of the Rutland community helped her find peace and a new outlook on life.
“My sense of gratitude and love for my family and friends is stronger than ever, and even on my worst days, I appreciate life far more than before,” Schaffer said. “What happened to me could have happened to anyone, and it instilled in me like never before the importance of being kind and respectful to other people, telling people you love and appreciate them, and being an active and positive member of the community.
“And that’s what the Gift-of-Life Marathon is all about,” Schaffer said. “It’s a community rallying together to support the greater good, while supporting hundreds of people who need blood in our region.”
Terry Jaye, program manager at Catamount Radio and one of the organizers of the GOLM, who was presented with the Chamber’s Community Leader of the Year Award, called Schaffer an inspiration.
“In the end, the marathon isn’t about numbers or records – it’s about people like Stefanie,” Jaye said. “Her poise and love for her community have been evident throughout her journey over the past year, a journey that has inspired me and many others. Without blood donors, this incredible person would have been lost. It’s that simple. So if you are inspired, moved or touched by Stefanie’s story, do what so many people did for her: donate blood.”
“It’s easy to forget the impacts of blood donation, but Stefanie is a living, breathing miracle,” said GOLM co-organizer and GMP Vice President Steve Costello. “With every beat of her heart, she’s a reminder of why we do this event, and why blood donations are so important.”
“We look at the community and try to pull out the strengths and remind people of all the positive things,” said Mary Cohen, executive director of the Chamber. “It’s about being strong and resilient, and Stefanie is a perfect example.”
The GOLM began as an ordinary blood drive but over time grew into the largest blood drive in American history, setting the national record of 2,350 pints in one day in 2013. The record still stands, and the American Red Cross has stopped doing one-day marathon drives, so the record is likely to stand for some time.
The Gift-of-Life Marathon Blood Drive is now a multi-day event. It will be held Dec. 10 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Castleton University; Dec. 18 from noon to 5 p.m. at Rutland Regional Medical Center; Dec. 19 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at RRMC; and Dec. 20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the U.S. Army Reserve on Post Road in Rutland Town.