On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, Terry Shaffer was one of the first responders to arrive at Flight 93 crash site in Somerset County, Pennsylvania in a field near Shanksville. The plane had crashed in Shaffer’s fire district. Tragically, there were no survivors on Flight 93 which had been hi-jacked by terrorist who were flying the plane towards an intended target, the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Extreme terrorism had come to the shores of the United States of America and Shaffer and his all-volunteer team of firefighters from Station 627 witnessed the horrific aftermath. On the ground, the Shanksville firefighters assisted the FBI, over several weeks, collecting bits of evidence.
Now retired from Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department, Shaffer encourages people to never forget 9/11 and the 40 passengers and crew members who perished on Flight 93 including those who bravely fought the hijackers to regain control of the plane.
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“It’s not about us. It’s always been about the people on the plane and bringing honor to them.” –Terry Shaffer, ret. Fire Chief
Since 9/11, people have come to know Terry Shaffer, now 66 years old, who has spent much of his adult life in the rural community of Shanksville located in Southwestern Pennsylvania. His wife says of her husband, “He’s a father, grandfather, and community volunteer. He has a big heart and care about his family, friends, church family, and community.”
Shaffer’s wife also said, “It was his big heart that has also been his big weakness.” At age 25, he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. While the diagnosis came as a shock, Shaffer said he felt lucky to have been diagnosed early. At age 50, his heart conditioned worsened. He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and his doctor said he also had a diseased mitral valve.
Shaffer underwent surgery to repair the valve in 2007. The repair was successful, for a while, but the Maze procedure done during the repair was not. Over the last decade his heart condition worsened, and a pacemaker was implanted. His health condition forced him to retire from his beloved position in 2019 as Fire Chief after 25 years of service after he learned he had developed an aneurism at the apex of his heart, indicating his condition had become much more severe.
His cardiomyopathy specialist diagnosed Shaffer with pulmonary hypertension and congestive heart failure and told him he needed a heart transplant to survive. Shaffer was in the fight of his life. “Looking back, I realized that was the day that truly marked the beginning of my transplant journey,” said Shaffer. Since receiving the news that only a heart transplant could save his life, Shaffer has struggled with his illness through frequent hospitalizations. In November 2021, he was finally placed on the national transplant waiting list. Shaffer has been hospitalized since February 2022 waiting for a second chance at life.
A heart transplant cost well over $1 million. While the patient may have insurance to cover much of the cost, their out-of-pocket expenses can be staggering including the required hospital deposit which allows the transplant to proceed. The patient’s share of the cost can put this life-saving medical treatment out of reach for many. Shaffer’s family contacted the National Foundation for Transplants (NFT) to discuss raising funds on our platform to help cover cost. His application was approved, and he was enrolled as a transplant patient ten days before Christmas in 2021.
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That’s when the outpouring of love for this retired Fire Chief began. Utilizing NFT’s tools and fundraising expertise, within a short span of time, over $102,000 had been raised to help the Chief with his out-of-pocket, transplant-related expenses.
On Resurrection Sunday 2022, Shaffer received the call and was scheduled the following day to receive a new heart. Indeed, it was a miracle. The kindness and foresight of a stranger saved his life. Shaffer is grateful to the donor for the gift of life they left behind and to the donor’s family for honoring the donation wish.
David Hurst of The Tribune Democrat reported on his condition post-surgery, “Shaffer underwent the nine-hour procedure at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and is receiving critical care. According to UPMC, heart transplant patients spend at least three days in an intensive care unit following a surgery – and oftentimes two weeks in a hospital room to continue monitoring their recovery process.”
On the same day Shaffer’s family informed his Patient Advocate at NFT that the transplant went well, his wife, Kathie, released a statement, “Our family is thankful for the ongoing support and prayers from across the country that have helped Terry on his journey to transplant. We are especially grateful for the team of doctors and nurses who have been caring for Terry and to the donor’s family for this gift.”
The Shaffers will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in May 2022. “God willing,” Terry said, “I will celebrate with my three adult children – Adam, Rebecca, and Benjamin and my four grandchildren – Aiden, Elizabeth, Ian, and Alex.” He is a man who says he spends as much time as possible with his family because he loves them dearly and treasure every moment with them. He calls his wife a “super caregiver” who retired from a nursing career in 2021 to take care of him and their home in Shanksville.
“I am happiest when I am with my family! I enjoy watching my grandkids play and be active. I do computer-based work from home for the [Shanksville| volunteer fire department, happy I can still contribute to the department in this small way. Prior to Covid-19, I was a Deacon and active member of my church,” Shaffer says.
Terry Shaffer’s love of family and community and dedication to service has been overwhelmingly returned.
Now that he has been transplanted, the NFT staff, his family, friends, and supporters across the country hope that his wish comes true, “I look forward to not living with the knowledge that my days are numbered due to my failing heart. I want to enjoy a simple, healthy lifestyle on far less medication. I hope I can be more physically active and participate more fully in the lives of my wife, children, and grandkids. The grandkids are growing up so fast! I want to know them and for them to know me as a devoted grandfather.”
Wishing Terry Shaffer, the very best in all his future endeavors. Congratulations, 9/11 Fire Chief.
Anyone can register to become an organ donor at RegisterMe.org. Living donors and organ recipients can contact National Foundation for Transplants when they need help raising funds for out-of-pocket transplant-related expenses. We exist to help transplant patients through their most difficult times get to their most wonderful times. You can support their transplant journey with a financial gift.