Vermont's largest annual blood drive, the Gift of Life Marathon in Rutland County, kicked off Tuesday — with a visit from a special guest who knows how vital blood donations are.
"Anyone at any time can need it," Stefanie Schaffer, 25, said of blood used for transfusions. "And it's constantly needed."
Schaffer lost her legs in an accidental explosion on a tour boat while vacationing with her family in the Bahamas in 2018.
She then fought through dozens of surgeries and many difficult days of physical rehab, emerging as a vocal advocate for blood donations — what she told NECN and NBC10 Boston saved her life and helped her heal following procedures.
In October, when Schaffer participated in the kickoff for this year's Gift of Life Marathon, she gave a powerful speech at Rutland's Paramount Theater.
"Stefanie is probably one of the most incredibly strong and brave women I have ever met," said Jennifer Costa of the American Red Cross.
Costa said the Red Cross really appreciates Schaffer's work to encourage signups for blood drives, calling inventory "dangerously low" right now. Costa added that the organization has seen a roughly 30% dip this year in first-time donors across northern New England, speculating the pandemic likely played a role in that.
"Make it your New Year's resolution: 'This is the year I'm going to become a blood donor,'" Costa urged New Englanders.
"It's a way to be, you know, selfless," Schaffer said of donating blood. "And help someone in probably their greatest time of need, whether it's a life-saving donation or helping someone heal. I think both are equally just as important."
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Schaffer's advocacy drew praise from blood donors at Tuesday's drive at the American Legion post in Fair Haven, who found her survivor's spirit inspirational.
"I'm really proud of her," donor Joanie Brown of Castleton said of Schaffer. "She's been really positive for the American Red Cross."
"She's come a long way," said Rep. Bill Canfield, R-Fair Haven, who was also donating blood Tuesday. "And she's got a bright future ahead of her."
The Gift of Life Marathon continues Dec. 15 and 16 at the Elks Lodge in Rutland, and on Dec. 17 at the Rutland Recreation Community Center.
Slots are still available for the event on Dec. 17, organizers said.
For more information on giving blood at a drive near you, visit the website for the blood services at the American Red Cross and enter your zip code for a list of available events.
Costa asked that people continue checking the site, since drives are regularly added to the schedule.