A student who lost both her legs during a fatal boat explosion during a vacation in the Bahamas is now happily posing a year in a bikini after the tragic accident.
Stefanie Schaffer, 23, from Rutland, Vermont, nearly died when a tourist boat that took her and her family to watch the island's swimming pigs explode last June.
Her legs were so badly damaged in the explosion that killed a fellow American traveler that doctors had no choice but to amputate both limbs.
Proud: Stefanie Schaffer, 23, from Rutland, Vermont, lost both her legs when she was on a tourist boat in the Bahamas last year. Since then she has learned to embrace her new body
Traumatic: she visited the Bahamas with her family when they experienced a boat explosion
New normal: the student (shown in February) lost both her legs during the holidays when a tourist boat on which she exploded exploded
Before: Stefanie, pictured with her parents before the accident traveled to the Caribbean with her mother Stacey Bender, 51, stepfather Paul Bender, 56, and sister, Brooke Shaffer, 14, last June
Prior to the accident: the deadly blast killed a passenger on the boat and seriously injured Stefanie (pictured in the Bahamas before the accident)
She later underwent elective surgery to become an amputee above the knee that she hopes will help her walk on prosthetic legs without assistance.
& # 39; When I was first injured, I cried for hours, & # 39; said Stefanie. & # 39; But I realized how hard recovery was and how much effort I would have to spend on it.
& # 39; Instead of being ashamed of myself, I felt proud of being able to fight. I never thought I'd wear a swimsuit or shorts again, but now it really doesn't bother me. & # 39;
Tragic: the student was trapped under rubble after the boat exploded. Doctors were later forced to amputate
Stefanie traveled to the Caribbean with her mother Stacey Bender, 51, a former accountant, her stepfather Paul Bender, 56, an engineer, and her sister, Brooke Shaffer, 14.
On the third day of their journey, they boarded a 40-foot chartered boat operated by tour operator Four C & # 39; s Adventures.
Only a five minute nature tour, from Barraterre Island to the Exuma Cays, exploded the boat engine.
& # 39; We were only there for about five minutes, & # 39; Stefanie recalled. & # 39; I can't remember hearing or seeing anything, but the boat exploded right under the seat I was sitting on. & # 39;
Her mother was blown out of the boat and into the water, her foot crushed and her wrist and two ribs broken.
She searched the water for Stefanie and realized that her daughter was still on the boat, trapped in ruins.
& # 39; We hit a wave and I realized I was going out of the boat, & # 39; said Stacey about the accident. & # 39; There was black smoke everywhere. I went looking for my family. I realized I couldn't see Stefanie. & # 39;
She continued: & # 39; Then I started screaming, "Where is Stefanie?"
Surprise accident: Stefanie and her family (pictured with her sister) were only five minutes on the boat before it exploded
Terrifying: she was transported to the Broward Health medical center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after the accident
Stressful: she had broken 16 bones, including her back, arms, wrists, and ribs. Doctors estimate that Stefanie only had a 50 percent chance of survival
Continue: & # 39; I didn't even know we had been to the Bahamas, & # 39; said Stefanie. & # 39; My back was broken and I had lost my legs & # 39;
The passengers pulled Stefanie off the boat and Stacey was shocked to see her daughter's injuries.
& # 39; She was covered in blood, & # 39; said Stacey. & # 39; I could see how badly her legs and arms were damaged. I knew it was horrible. & # 39;
Stacey said no ambulance was available and that they had to load Stefanie in a pick-up for the 40-minute ride to a hospital in George Town.
New standard: Stefanie was later transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts
In the ER doctors told Stacey that they had to amputate both legs of Stefanie.
& # 39; I could not accept it, & # 39; said Stacey. & # 39; But in the end I did it and I thought, "Please let her live." You never think something like this can happen to your child. & # 39;
Maleka Jackson, 39, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, sat behind Stefanie on the tour boat. Mommy had been on the Bahamas to celebrate her 15th wedding anniversary with husband Tiran.
She died at George Town Hospital because of the injuries she sustained during the blast.
Stefanie was flown to the Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where doctors spent a month in a medical coma.
She had broken 16 bones, including her back, arms, wrists, and ribs. Doctors estimate that Stefanie only had a 50 percent chance of survival.
When she woke up in her hospital bed surrounded by friends and family, Stefanie couldn't remember she had been to the Bahamas.
& # 39; I didn't even remember that we had been to the Bahamas, & # 39; said Stefanie. & # 39; My back was broken and I had lost my legs. I had that weird phantom pain where I could still feel that my legs were there.
& # 39; It took a long time before they realized that they had actually disappeared. I was very broken then. & # 39;
Two months later, Stefanie was transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the reality of her situation began to affect her.
& # 39; I was in a pretty bad place, & # 39; she said. & # 39; My entire days were consumed by anger. The only thing I could think of was: "How can this happen to me?"
& # 39; Through counseling, I settled down and just started concentrating on my recovery and releasing the anger. & # 39;
Furthermore: the student (pictured with her surgeons) admitted that after the accident she was in a & # 39; bad place & # 39; found. But since then she has embraced her new body
Learning: Before the accident, Stefanie worked in a gym and was an avid football player. Now she is trying to learn how to work with prostheses
Stefanie got two prosthetic legs and started physiotherapy to learn to walk again, but she still can't walk without help.
& # 39; I was so weak because I had been in a coma for so long that I had lost the power to even sit alone, & # 39; she said. & # 39; I also had a paraplegia. When I broke the bone in my spine, some pieces of the bone hit my spinal cord and the impact damaged it.
She continued: & # 39; My doctors were not sure if I could walk again. Eventually I got up and started walking with a walker. I was able to walk on crutches recently, but it is now a year ago and I still can't walk alone without help. Sometimes I think my spinal cord injury is worse than my amputations.
& # 39; It is not improving, that was very frustrating. & # 39;
Before the accident, Stefanie worked in a gym and was an avid football player. Now she is trying to learn how to work with prostheses.
& # 39; I really miss being able to walk and ski, & # 39; she said. & # 39; There are things you lose, but you get them back in new ways. I go to a sports center where they adjust activities for people who have been injured.
& # 39; I will use a bike that I push with my hands instead of with my feet. & # 39;
Last month, Stefanie chose to have her legs amputated above the knee to help her use prosthetic legs.
& # 39; It was a lonely decision to make – no one who loves you wants to see you lose your leg more, & # 39; she said. & # 39; But it came to the point that getting the amputation would hurt me less than keeping it.
& # 39; It is important to know that it is getting better. It is terrible to lose a part of the body in which you have lived for so many years. It is great to mourn the loss of your limbs.
Bijna I almost mourned them as if I would mourn the loss of a loved one.
Stefanie has since changed her way of thinking to love her new legs and gains confidence with and without wearing them.
Get stronger: & # 39; My doctors were not sure if I could walk again & # 39 ;, she said. & # 39; Finally I got up and started walking with a walker & # 39;
Feeling injustice: people from the company were charged with manslaughter for negligence after the explosion. Stefanie & # 39; s family are also looking for legal action against the company
& # 39; I am happy to wear shorts and dresses and bathing suits. I am proud of my body for survival. & # 39;
Stefanie added that the support she received on social media from fellow amputees is invaluable for her recovery.
& # 39; Many amputees really reach out to you and they come to meet you and share their perspective, & # 39; she said, adding: & # 39; Being amputated is like entering a whole new world that you know nothing about. You are angry and sad and you have all these feelings.
& # 39; Those people to talk to helped me a lot. & # 39;
The owner of Four C & Adventures, Clayton Smith, and one of his captains Roderick Watson have been charged with manslaughter for negligence following the deadly explosion. The men are on trial next year.
But the company continues to conduct boat trips on the Bahamas.
The Schaffer Bender family is taking legal action against Four C & # 39; s Adventures and the Bahama & # 39; s Tourism Department.
& # 39; Stefanie wants someone to admit that she was wronged, & # 39; Stacey said about their pursuit of legal action.
& # 39; We feel it might be time to contact our local senators and congressmen here in Vermont. If no changes are made, there will be more of these accidents. & # 39;
Four C & # 39; s Adventures and the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism declined to comment.
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