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Fingerless bridal designer's journey back to health

Coming back home from Spain to her Mount Scott home in 2008, after meeting with designers of bridal gowns, Jan Schumacher — then the owner of Tres Fabu Bridal Shop in Westmoreland — didn’t feel well.

by: PHOTO BY: DAVID F. ASHTON - Clackamas-based bridal couturier Tres Fabu owner Jan Schumacher will be the keynote speaker at the Donate Life Northwest Lifesaver Breakfast.Brides who had shopped at her store became concerned about her subsequent absence, which led to this reporter investigating the situation and reporting the unfortunate turns in Schumacher’s life. She had suffered severe injury to her hands for reasons unclear.

Her store, which long graced the corner of Southeast Milwaukie Avenue and Bybee Boulevard in Southeast Portland, serving more than 10,000 brides by her estimate, slowly emptied over the months, while Schumacher dealt with a life-threatening illness. The shop eventually closed, and the space was rented to another business.

As she prepared to give the keynote address at the Donate Life Northwest “Lifesaver Breakfast” to be held Nov. 6 in the living room of her Clackamas home, Schumacher recounted her experiences.

“To me it’s kind of crazy, kind of like a crazy dream,” Schumacher began. “As frightening and painful as it was, it put me on a new, happy trajectory in my life.”

Even now, she can’t name the illness that nearly took her life in 2008, left her body scarred — and without fingers on her hands.

“I am undiagnosed; my blood showed no bacterium and no virus. I was becoming more and more seriously ill by a ‘mysterious something’ that had taken over my body. The Center for Disease Control has cataloged only 10 patients who have had this affliction and survived.”

When first admitted to the hospital, Schumacher said experts tried without success to understand the illness. “It started becoming critical one night, when I started bleeding out internally, from my small arteries. If it progressed to major arteries, my organs would have shut down.

“At one point, it became critical. They called my family to come say goodbye,” Schumacher said. “I ‘journeyed into the light,’ feeling myself becoming one with — part of — light. I met with family and friends who passed away before me. My husband was sitting at my bedside, in the ICU, watching me converse with these people, and at the same time, saying his goodbyes.”

A “massive dose” of steroids given at that time was credited with saving her life — helping her blood again stay inside her arteries. “But, it also kept blood flowing from my extremities — like my fingers, and the tip of my nose.”

Schumacher held up her hands, showing her finger stubs on one hand, and the other hand with a thumb, but no digits. “I spent six months at the Oregon Burn Center, and had 25 surgeries in 24 weeks.”

What helped her begin to heal was donated tissue. “They call it a biological bandage; these strips covered up to 35 percent of my body. When you think about it, this amounts to one very large and deep wound.”

Doctors replaced the sections of donated tissue until she was well enough to become her own donor, Schumacher said. “My hands would not take the grafted tissue, so at various times they were sewn into my abdomen until they formed their own blood supply.”

“When you visited my store in 2009, I’d just had one of my hands freed from my abdomen,” she said. “I soon recognized that all of this was just going to be too much for me. With 10 more surgeries coming, I could see I was not able to fulfill the requirements of the job.”

With the help of her family and friends, the remaining inventory of the 7,000-square-foot store was moved to her Clackamas home.

“All I can say is ‘God bless brides.’ I’ve had a good name in the community, and many families remembered me. These brides got me out of bed on days when I otherwise just would not have gotten up for any other reason.”

Now, she operates Tres Fabu in her home, doing a limited business by appointment. “I love being with ‘my’ brides, giving them the bridal gown of their dreams, and a phenomenal deal at the same time.”

Joy in service to others

“But what really makes me happy is a whole new trajectory my life has taken, helping

others,” Schumacher said.

As a member of the Amputee Coalition of America, Schumacher is a peer-to-peer counselor. “I talk with and give support to amputees all over the country.”

She also volunteered at the Oregon Burn Center, and through them, became involved with the Phoenix Society, a burn survivors group. “I have thousands of people with whom I’ve shared stories. I let them know that there is life after a near-death experience.”

Additionally, Schumacher supports another Portland-based organization, Community Tissue Services. “I am so blessed to have received my donated tissue — and to think that 75 percent of Oregonians are donors — it was the donated tissue that kept me alive until I could become my own donor.”

Schumacher said she’s “test-riding” a computerized partial-hand prosthesis — and is the first woman in the world to do so. “I am thrilled with that opportunity to help move this research forward,” she said.

Thinking about the message she’ll be delivering in her Donate Life Northwest speech, Schumacher’s thoughts were clear:

“Regardless of the trauma, when a person comes upon ‘a 90-degree fork in the road,’ this experience can really take you to the ‘core of your being’ as you question and decide the importance of things in life.

“After such a tragic experience, you really question if you’ll have purpose again — and that’s what I’ve discovered is most precious to me — to be purposeful to others,” she said.

Anyone can easily live a purposeful life — even in death, Schumacher said, by registering to become a donor.

“I can assure you, in my glimpse into heaven, there is just nothing about this vessel — your body — that is required in the next life. Think about it. If you can save five or 50 lives with your body by donating it, would that not be a marvelous thing to leave behind you, as you journey forward into the light?”

To learn more about Donate Life Northwest, visit donate

lifenw.org.



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