Schaffer

TRAVIS SCHAFFER, laundry assistant at Hair Expressions in Norfolk, folds towels. Schaffer has used prosthetics since his hands and legs had to be amputated as an infant.

Travis Schaffer of Norfolk has had his fair share of challenges he wouldn't wish on anyone.

And they all started when he was 11 months old.

That's when he got a strep infection that entered his bloodstream and spread throughout his body. Within a five-week span, he suffered two cardiac arrests — the second one causing a seizure, muscle damage to his eyes and brain damage. He also lost circulation to his extremities, which led to the amputation of both his hands and feet.

He's overcome two eye surgeries, two leg surgeries — besides his amputations — and a bone graft from his hip, which gave him bone for the front of his mouth where he eventually got implants.

Despite all this — and the everyday things that became more difficult for him — if he could undo what happened, he wouldn't.

"It brought my entire extended family to know Jesus," Schaffer said. "So in a way it was good that it happened, but at the same time it wasn't, it wasn't good that it happened. But I'm glad it did."

It's this outlook and how it's led him to live his life that makes Jodi Ronspies, the owner and director of Norfolk's Employment Works Inc., classify Schaffer a success story.

Employment Works, along with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Developmental Disabilities, has helped support Schaffer in his journey. Specifically, Ronspies said Employment Works provided residential support and helped Schaffer find employment, including his current job as a laundry assistant at Hair Expressions.

He works there from 3 to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, folding towels and capes with the help of his prosthetics.

"There's obviously challenges in his life, but he works really hard to overcome those challenges," Ronspies said. "He stands up to those challenges. He doesn't let them bring him down. He doesn't let them make him lose confidence in himself."

And he's managed to stay active and as independent as possible.

Schaffer is the president of People First of Nebraska, a statewide disability rights organization run by and for people with disabilities. He's also been involved with The Arc of Norfolk, which advocates for the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities, and serves on the Employment Works advisory board.

In his advisory board role, Ronspies said Schaffer has been critical in sharing the perspective of someone who utilizes services, which helps the organization make sure the people they work with maintain their dignity.

He's active in his church, participating in Bible studies, and has gone on three mission trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where he helped tear down houses devastated by floods. He's also participated on the Norfolk Special Olympics swimming team since 2007.

"I could choose to not do anything and be a hermit because I'm like this, but why?" Schaffer said. "Why would I do that? Why would I be a hermit and not go anywhere, not do anything. It wouldn't be a life."

Ronspies said she thought his positive outlook and faith make Schaffer unafraid to try things and an inspiration to others.

She said he's also a reminder to never judge a book by its cover.

"If you see someone that has an obvious challenge in their life, that doesn't diminish their ability to accomplish great things," Ronspies said. "Don't look at somebody and just assume that they can't do something."

And if life has taught Schaffer anything, it's to never give up and always keep things in perspective. That's advice he would give to anyone, disability or not.

"I would just say take it slow. Take it day by day, or if it comes down to it, minute by minute," he said. "Just tackle life. Don't ever give up. That's the last thing you'd want to do. I mean no matter how hard you have it, there's always someone that has it worse."

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