Dancing in spirit, teenage amputee grapples with physical hardships

Photography by Greg Lovett

Nominated by Families First of Palm Beach County

Chrisma Joseph laughs often. And it’s a miraculous act given what, at 17, she’s already lost: her ability to stay with her family in Haiti. Her native language. Her friends at home. Her leg.

The girl who loved to dance as a child now sits with her ever-present walker in her sister’s small, homey Delray Beach living room. But her physical challenges have yet to sink her spirit.

“She laughs at everything,” says friend and caseworker Dr. Vardine Simeus. “We just laugh, laugh, laugh.”

The story of Chrisma’s journey to Delray two years ago is really a love story about sisters that began when the teen was diagnosed with stage 3 osteosarcoma, with a tumor under her knee so large she could barely walk. It’s about how doctors in Haiti told Chrisma’s parents that “they couldn’t do anything” and that they should be “prepared for death.” It’s about how her sister, Rosema, a married mother raising two sons and going to school, refused to accept that.

“I talked to my husband and said, ‘Can we do something?’” says Rosema, who pursued a medical visa for her sister, so she could come to South Florida for the chemotherapy that saved her life but, sadly, not her leg.

Chrisma Joseph, 17, works on homework. She is a student at Atlantic High School.
Chrisma Joseph, 17, works on homework. She is a student at Atlantic High School.

So Rosema’s family of four has grown to five in this small apartment where Chrisma shares a room with her young nephews. Family takes care of family, but even so, the added costs of Chrisma’s care — some paid out-of-pocket — is straining. Atlantic High School, where she’s a junior as well as a part of Junior ROTC, is nearby. But as she must use a walker, it’s a difficult journey to the school bus.

Chrisma has the same problems sometimes getting to medical appointments and physical therapy. Still, she smiles. Dr. Simeus says that she’s seen the teenager, who wants to be a doctor, emerge from her shyness. Chrisma has even regained her passion for dancing through the story of amputee para-athlete Amy Purdy, who competed on “Dancing With The Stars.” Life is not yet like she wants it, and she’s still learning the language and the culture.

“What I want people to know is how my dreams are coming to pass,” she says. “I always smile when sadness comes. I have to stay strong and positive. I’m still here.”

CHRISMA’S WISH

Chrisma Joseph, a teen who once loved to dance, lost a leg after a cancerous tumor was discovered two years ago. The 17-year-old girl must rely on a walker to get to and from the school bus each day. This makes it difficult for her to not only to get to school but to her doctor’s appointments. Chrisma would benefit greatly from a three-wheel mobility scooter. She is also hoping for an accessible bed and a prosthetic leg, plus all the resources and therapies necessary for her to utilize it. The spirited, undaunted high school junior could use new clothing as well.

Nominated by: Families First of Palm Beach County, 561-721-2887

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