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Josie Schisma: A Story of Survival and Perserverance

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One more step. One measly step. Josie could already taste the victory dancing on her tongue. The finish was right there, yet it was just slightly out of reach. She took a deep breath and fixed her goggles. Then, as if in slow motion, she took the final step.


Josie dug a small stone from her pocket and place it on top of a pile of snow. She took a quick picture for the others and then sat. She was finally there overlooking the world. The world that had taken everything from her. The world that had said she could never do anything. The world that she had proved wrong. Afterall, she was a survivor. She was Josie Schisma.

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Josie was born August 7th, 1938 in Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia to Veronica and Kenny Schisma. She was their little miracle and the most precious thing that they had.


One month following her first birthday, Australia became involved in World War Two. By the time she began walking, her father was called from his position as cartographer to help fight in the war. So, Veronica raised the girl on her own.


Veronica taught Josie the alphabet and basic math, as well as manners. However, she also made sure to teach her survival skills. By the age of five, she could swim for hours, climb up mountainsides, and navigate through the wilderness. Josie grew stronger every day that passed, both physically and mentally.


She remembered her father through her mother’s stories, but could never picture him. She knew he had a scruffy face and bright green eyes, but that was it. Afraid of making her mother cry, she avoided asking any questions about him.


On the day of her sixth birthday, a telegram came in the mail. She could read a majority of it over her mother’s shoulder, but couldn’t understand it. Josie saw the fear and tears in the eyes of her mother, so she simply sat there as company. Veronica dropped the paper and held her little miracle close. Her father had been killed in the war.


Later in 1944, Veronica took over Kenny’s cartography job. She had grown very weak and weary the few months prior, so Josie would walk to and from the office every day with her.


One day while at work, the office was invaded with Australian soldiers. Veronica pushed Josie under the desk immediately. They demanded information about the other troops. Knowing their true motives, Veronica refused to say anything. The soldiers destroyed the office completely and asked again. She still refused. They drew their weapons and did more damage. Josie stayed as still as possible under the desk, even as she saw her mother’s life diminish. Right as she thought the damage was done, a soldier came over and smiled. There could be no witnesses, so he simply shot her in the stomach and walked away.


Josie’s body began to shut down. Her breaths became shakier and shallower. She knew that her time was almost over. Her arms and legs grew numb and useless. But she didn’t lay there for her last minutes. The seven year old tried to stand and get out onto the street where she could be seen. She weakly took a few steps out the building. Her head was beginning to spin and the world grew dark. She collapsed onto the gravel.


Josie was found by Stephen Williams fifteen minutes after the accident. He was in his mid seventies at the time and could not fight in the war. He feared how much time she had left, but carried her down to his daughter's house.


His daughter, Jessica, was a registered nurse. She was in her late twenties, but was still very good at what she did. Instantly, she cradled the girl in her arms and then laid her on a bed. She gave Josie an indigenous medicinal herb to put her to sleep. In a matter of seconds, Jessica found and removed the bullet. However, her internal organs were still badly damaged. She tried to sew up some loose ends, but eventually gave up and sewed up the excavation site. Jessica applied many medicine’s to the area to fight off infection.


Josie eventually arose, but still was having trouble breathing. She couldn’t move at all either. Even talking took too much energy. Jessica and Stephen stood around her. Eventually, Stephen left or was kicked out by his daughter. Jessica sliced some kiwi and hand-fed it to her patient.


The juice tasted so good on her lips. But, she suddenly screamed out in pain. Even eating was impossible. Jessica sat down on the bed next to her and sang a little melody. Josie fell asleep and forgot about everything that had happened during the day.


For several days, it was the same ritual. However, Josie was still improving, if only slightly.


As the war continued, wounded soldiers lined up at the door. They came in all shapes and sizes with various types of injuries. Josie was very apprehensive about letting the soldiers in, but Jessica assured her that it was okay. The soldiers were fixed rather quickly, but had to stay for several days to make sure they were fine. Josie was moved into Jessica’s room eventually. On the days that she felt strong enough, she’d ask Jessica to carry her into the main room.


There, she could hear the stories of the soldiers. Not just of the war, but of their lives. She especially loved the ones about the crazy generals. The soldiers used the little girl as inspiration. A seven year old had lost two parents and almost her own life to this war, yet she continued to be optimistic. In fact, the soldiers that recovered shared her story with the others and she was soon the most talked about person in the c***pits of airplanes or in the mess hall.


In 1945, the war had officially ended. Jessica sent the soldiers back to their rightful homes and waited. Her husband, Aaron, had been sent to fight in the air force at the very beginning and she hadn’t heard anything. Many stopped by Jessica’s house to see the “little soldier.” None of them knew anything of Aaron.


A few months following the war, Josie spiked a fever. She couldn’t eat once again and her breathing grew shaky. Jessica knew there was nothing else she could do, but she wasn’t giving up. She knew if she could get Josie to England, the doctor’s could care for her much better. After three days of fevers, Jessica and Josie were getting worn out. Josie spent most of the day sleeping. Jessica spent seventy two hours straight looking for a cure. She knew there wasn’t one, but couldn’t let her know.


Jessica gave up on waiting for Aaron and his plane. She took Josie in her arms and walked all the way to the closest airport base. She pleaded for a one way trip to England, but the staff denied. She begged even more. Still no. She was nearly in hysterics. Then, one of the injured soldiers walked in. He was familiar with Josie and her story and willingly flew them to England.


In England, Josie was brought immediately to their biggest hospital. She was seen by world-renowned doctors almost instantly. They put her in emergency surgery after finding the a damaged lung and torn intestines. Not to mention that she had failures of several crucial organs. She was hooked to machines upon machines to assure that she lived.


Jessica, meanwhile, was pacing in the hallway. She walked back and forth over and over until one of the patient’s stopped her. She knew the voice instantly. Aaron was also sent to this hospital for life threatening injuries. His plane malfunctioned and exploded causing many burns and gashes. They reunited briefly until the nurses came in to tell about Josie’s condition.


Due to her lack of stability, she would need to stay in the hospital until she was at least ten. Additionally, she would be wheelchair bound for the rest of her life.


Aaron and Jessica both walked into her room. Aaron, like the other soldiers, immediately looked up to her. He had seen many gruesome things, but could never live to see both his parents die before he was at least thirty. Not to mention how long she held on after the incident. Jessica smiled as she walked in the room and saw the color back on her patient’s face.

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Josie stayed in the hospital until 1950. Her replaced organs were finally working properly and she could breathe regularly. She left England to go back to Australia, where she stayed with Jessica and Aaron, who later adopted her. Aaron worked alongside Kenny at the beginning of the war and had heard many great things of Josie. He even had a letter that Kenny wrote an hour before he died. On the day of her thirteenth birthday, he passed along the letter.

My Sweet Josie,

       I am sorry that I can not be there for the first few years of your life. This war is tiring and useless. Hopefully, I will be back before you can blink an eye. If I am not back, please help your mother carry on. You do not know me, but if you were wondering, just look in the mirror. I am the same as you, if not less. I hope one day you will fulfill all your dreams. I have always wanted to be on the top of the world. If you ever get there, please place my special stone on the top so I can be there with you. Remember that you can do anything that you want. Nothing is impossible.

                        Your Father

The next few years of her life, Josie wanted nothing more than to fulfill her father’s only dream. Every day, she tried to move just a little more. By her fifteenth birthday, she could walk a couple steps on her own. Jessica did everything she could to help the child get her life back to normal.


In 1953, the first successful expedition to Mt. Everest occurred. Josie knew that it was at least possible that a normal person could climb it. Now, she was more determined than ever.


Josie took her first long walk in October 10, 1956. Never in her whole life had she been so delighted. The whole population of Dubbo celebrated. Following this accomplishment, Josie began training for her expedition. She spent hours every day scaling up slopes and learning new techniques. In 1959, Josie applied to join a group for the once a year expedition. Due to her organ and lung struggles, she had to sign in using an alias, Maya Smith. 


On April 30, 1961, Josie Schisma, or Maya Smith, summited Mt. Everest. At the top, she placed her father’s rock. She successfully came back down to share her story to all the other Australians.


Josie overcame challenge after challenge. She never gave up on anything. She lived through both of her parents’ deaths and through life threatening injuries. Not to mention, she did it all with a smile on her face.


So, the next time that you think you can’t do anything, remember Josie. After all, anything is possible.

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