War Survivor, Inspirational Speaker, Entrpreneur: b. 1977
“Everyone gave me what they could, and together it formed a quilt of support that kept me going in those early difficult months.”
Maja Kazazic said this statement in 1993 after being hospitalized for a critical injury. Although suffering greatly at the time, she was able to create a metaphorical quilt from her personal story, transforming scraps and fragments of her trauma into a unified, beautiful whole.
The fashioning of Maja Kazazic’s life’ quilt began in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in the late 1970s where she enjoyed a halcyon childhood. She excelled in school and was passionate about becoming the best soccer player in Mostar and a professional athlete. Along with her parents and younger brother, Maja was surrounded by a large and close-knit family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who all lived within walking distance of each other and gathered frequently to share an abundance of coffee, food, laughter and music. Until she was 14, her life was similar to those of so many teenagers around the world. As Maja says, “My friends wore T-shirts and jeans, watched ‘90210’ and ‘Baywatch,’ and listened to American music, like Billy Joel.”
All that changed when the international armed conflict, the Bosnian War, came to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. In mid-1993, Maja was critically injured by a mortar shell that killed six of her friends. Her lower legs and left hand were severely damaged, and a great deal of shrapnel entered her body causing rapid blood loss.
She was taken to a basement room with no doctors, no medicine, and limited supplies. After a week, infection set in; to save her life a dentist was called in to amputate her left leg. Devastated, Maja’s first thought was that she would never be able to play soccer again.
After two months, Sally Becker, a British aid worker, took Maja to Frankfurt, Germany where she received the care she needed to survive. In September of 1993, through their Children of War Rescue Project, Veterans for Peace brought Maja to a hospital in Cumberland, Maryland. “Its citizens embraced me. Every group in town donated what I needed to live and what I needed to survive. The president of the hospital and my surgeons and nurses donated my medical care. Church groups provided housing, food and clothing and gave me what they could.”
Alone in a foreign land, not knowing English or American customs, 16-year-old Maja struggled with being away from her family and friends. Sometimes she wished she had died with her friends, but she learned to “take life on life’s terms.”
Over the next few months, doctors performed several operations a week on her legs and grafted skin to her damaged body.
She learned English and was eventually well enough to go to high school, even though she started out going in a wheelchair dragging an I.V. After months of physical therapy to learn to walk again, she began using a prosthetic leg.
After graduating from St. Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania with a degree in psychology, Maja relocated to the Gulf Coast of Florida. She got a job as a web analyst at an insurance brokerage, which led to her launching her own website development company.
As her website business grows, Maja is giving back to the people and the country that took her in. She created One Story One World, a website to publish and read true stories of everyday heroes, believing that by “swapping stories with others, we remember that we are all connected... by the challenges we face as we try to live our lives to the fullest.”
Hundreds of surgeries had allowed her to play the occasional round of golf or set of tennis, but walking remained very difficult and painful. Maja´s imperfect prosthesis prevented her from leading a more active and athletic life.
On one of her frequent visits to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, she observed a young dolphin, Winter, who had a prosthetic tail. The tail enabled Winter to swim like a normal dolphin. Maja contacted the company that made Winter’s tail and within ten days had a new prosthetic which enabled her to play golf and tennis, ride her bike and walk long distances, pain free.
A certified amputee peer counselor, Maja helps recent amputees see that there is life after limb loss, instilling in them a determination to succeed and the will to overcome any obstacle. She volunteers at Camp No Limits for amputee children and Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She talks to church groups, school groups and business groups about the twists and turns her life has taken and about the human spirit that enables us to rebuild and recreate the “quilts” of our lives.