Taryn Schaaf’s story isn’t something most of us can relate to. Up until that fateful day nearly seven years ago, she didn’t even have plans to be a college student.
In 2009, Schaaf was in an ATV accident that caused her to lose all movement in her lower body.
It was her spinal cord.
Forced to live the rest of her life in a wheelchair, Schaaf began to plot a different course for herself.
Schaaf worked as a sales and marketing representative for a cosmetology company, where she traveled often, usually to trade shows to sell her company’s products. It was a fast-paced lifestyle she enjoyed.
“I didn’t plan on going back to school,” she said.
After the accident – everything changed. Schaaf began her rehabilitation at Quality Living, Inc. (QLI), which has established itself as one of the nation’s most respected centers for brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation.
There, with the assistance of QLI, she had to relearn how to be independent.
“I had to relearn how to drive,” she said. “I had to learn how to go and get gas by myself. That was part of my therapy. Getting groceries, all sorts of life skills.”
QLI emphasizes the art of rebuilding a life, much more than the science of physical recovery. With the help of her team of specialists at QLI, that’s exactly what Schaaf began to do.
“I knew I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing,” she said.
Some of them think that they are in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives, it’s going to be awful, but when I come to see them they think, ‘Oh, well she is still young and in a wheelchair, and she’s still living her life.’
- Taryn Schaaf, QLI client and UNO alumna
Unbelievably, three years prior to her spinal cord injury, Schaaf’s younger brother suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident. When comparing her experience to her brothers, she realized how big of an impact a skilled social worker can have on a grieving family.
This led to Schaaf’s focus on getting a degree in social work from the Grace Abbott School of Social Work at UNO. Schaaf’s now going to work on her masters degree where she hopes to work in geriatrics one day.
“It sounds weird, but I can relate to (the elderly) in a lot of different aspects,” she said. “Some of them think that they are in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives, it’s going to be awful, but when I come to see them they think, ‘Oh, well she is still young and in a wheelchair, and she’s still living her life.’ I’ve had several of them say that to me.”
With a new calling in life, Schaaf was ready to try even more new things.
That was another part of QLI’s unique approach to rehabilitation. With the help of some local partners, including UNO, QLI and its patients are able to do the things they love, whether it be hunting, biking, boating, or even rock climbing. Some of QLI’s patients have even used UNO’s rock wall in the Health, Physical Education, and Recreation building (HPER). Schaaf may even try scuba diving.
But first and foremost she had to cross off one other thing on her list; walking across the stage at UNO Commencement, Friday, May 6, 2016.
The physical and occupational therapists at QLI implemented an exoskeleton as part of their Tri-Dimensional Rehabilitation program that focused not only the core medical and physical aspects of rehabilitation, but also addresses real-world skills and individualized interests. With the help of the rehabilitation efforts at QLI and the exoskeleton at commencement, Schaaf was able to graduate and walk again across the stage to receive her diploma.
She proudly stood up and received her degree alongside her fellow graduates showing how powerful collaborations between organizations such as QLI and UNO can be – and how being on the same team, can change people’s lives forever.