Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Kelly Schaefer: Fractured But Not Broken



Most of the people in Jasper know Kelly (Craig) Schaefer’s story by heart.

In July of 1999, she was a college sophomore at Indiana University, spending a family vacation in Colorado, when a drunk driver hit the vehicle she was riding in. When she awoke in the hospital, her mother told her that her brother, Jason, had suffered a severe brain injury and that she had a spine injury so severe that it had left her a quadriplegic. She was 19 years old.

I met her shortly after that. I remember how quiet she was, her spirit just a small little flame.

She took the next year off from school, and spent it in physical therapy. When she returned to college, this time at the University of Southern Indiana, she earned her bachelor’s degree in education. She was then hired to teach language arts and religion at Precious Blood School in Jasper.

Now she can laugh at the question she hears so much: How do you do it? “I guess it’s just magic,” she answers, adding, “It’s part of the many miracles I have received since the accident.”

Another miracle is named Shawn. He is her husband of five years.

He caught a glimpse of his future bride right after her accident when she was being interviewed on national TV. He was watching in St. Louis, and he was inspired by her message. He wrote her a letter, but the post office returned it.

Seven years later, her name and the town of Jasper “popped into his head,” and he decided to head to southern Indiana and put the letter in her mailbox. His cousin suggested that he hand-deliver it.

It was 8 o’clock at night, she remembers, and she was wearing a facial mask — which was “green and hardening” — when he arrived. “I told my mom to say I wasn’t home, but when I read his letter I asked him to come back.”

They talked that night, and then they began exchanging phone calls. “A year and a half later we were engaged.”

A lot has happened to Kelly since the summer of 1999. An accident. Devastation. Physical therapy. Completing her education. Becoming a teacher. Meeting Shawn. Marrying Shawn.

It’s a lot to take in. And now Kelly is writing about it.

She and her aunt, Michelle Weidenbenner, are collaborating on a memoir, which is tentatively titled “Fractured But Not Broken.” The title is a metaphor for her life. “For many years I was fractured and did not know if there would be happiness in my life. I went through some really dark times, but in order to have the good days you have to know what the bad days feel like.”

Fifteen years after the accident, Kelly’s faith has deepened, and she has come to believe that “I might be physically damaged, but I’m worth a whole lot in His eyes.”

One of her “ah-hah moments” came after she won the Miss Wheelchair Indiana title, and attended the Miss Wheelchair America pageant. There she saw so many others in wheelchairs who were married with children and had jobs.

“It was an eye opening experience for me,” she said. That’s when she decided, “If they could do it, I could do it too. It motivated me to be thankful for what I have, and to make the most of it.”

Today, Kelly speaks with a strong voice. It’s joyful and Spirit-filled. She says she’s grateful for the support of her husband, for her job, for God who gives her hope, and for her family members who give her love.

“Everybody has a story,” she says, adding, “it’s what we do with the story. We can let it hold us back or we can use it to help others. That’s what I’m trying to do.”