From early childhood, the years of extreme domestic violence that Angel Schaffer witnessed took its toll. As a young girl, she was labeled a slow learner, shifted into special education classes for what she now recognizes as a type of stress related disorientation.
It was the time before Oprah, a time when nobody talked about such things. Whenever the police came, they would simply tell her father to leave for the night.
The next day, it would start all over again.
Growing up under extreme physical and mental abuse, she and her younger brother would often lie awake at night planning their escape. Despite whatever else was going on, she excelled academically.
“It wasn’t until sixth grade that I had this awesome teacher that turned me around; she took time with me and the light bulb came on,” she said.
Today, with her patients, Dr. Shaffer, a family practitioner, quickly spots the signs of domestic violence. Like her teacher, she has made it her life’s goal to reach out and teach young women self-awareness to prevent the kind of life that her mother endured.
Abused to the point of a nervous breakdown, her mother was hospitalized with electric convulsive shock treatments while pregnant with her brother, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic in his teen years. It’s something she attributes to the years of abuse at the hands of her father.
But her long and troubled journey became the motivation for change. Her latest project, PURE (Praising, Uplifting, Rejoicing, Exalting Incorporated) program, a local faith-based effort reaches out to African American girls and teens with mentoring, academic support, financial education, and to build self-esteem.
She said that even watching her own daughter’s sixth grade peers, girls these days need stronger direction with self-respect.
Dr. Schaffer went on to graduate with honors and was valedictorian from high school. She said seeing how the nurses cared for her baby brother led her into the field of medicine, a dream that both she and her mother shared. It was their big dream together.
Through it all, years of emergency room visits with her mother also developed a sense of compassion for how sick people should be treated.
“That was truly instilled me the last three years that I was taking care of [my mother]. I understood what a physician was--which is a servant. People are worth something, that ask for your help,” said Dr. Schaffer, who was recognized last year within the top 10 Kaiser family physicians.
She went on to be accepted by every major college where she applied, finally graduating from UCLA. Again and again, her mother went back and forth through her father’s alcoholism, eventually becoming pregnant with her youngest sister, believing that her religion required her to stay married. Less than three years later, her mother died from irreparable heart damage and a medical system that refused to put her on a transplant list.
“I packed my newborn sister up, took her to college with me,” Dr. Schaffer said. “I had good friends; I would attend lectures, they would watch her for me; my professors worked with me.”
Over the weekend, she attended her 22-year-old sister’s college graduation, who is now pursuing a career in social work.
Looking back over the years, and all that her mother went through, probably the hardest part of the process has been forgiveness of her father. Eventually, her father moved on, but continued alcohol abuse cut his life short last year.
Today, she tells women that they should forgive, but move on, and never put themselves or family in harm’s way. She wants her journey, her own layers of forgiveness, and the program to help protect young people from getting wrapped up in bad relationships.
“It’s to gain independence, self-esteem, respecting your body, making good choices, and recognizing danger,” she said. “Not falling for, 'Oh my goodness, I’m not that beautiful, but he loves me anyway.”
For more information on the Long Beach PURE program, call 1.310.940.7244 or email