Paralyzed in a Freak Accident, Former Cheerleader Aims to Inspire and Help Others

On March 15, 2005, Cindy Donald was a 21-year-old college cheerleader sunbathing on her parents' driveway, waiting for her Dad to get home so they could have lunch together. She heard him drive up, but he didn't see her lying on the pavement. In an instant, her entire life changed: she went from being an athletic young adult to being a C4-C5 quadriplegic, unable to move any part of her body from her neck down.

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"The front of my dad's car crushed my chest in," Donald, now 29, told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. "I woke up in the hospital unable to turn my head… it was pretty devastating going from being really active, always water skiing and traveling everywhere, doing whatever I wanted to do, to being completely dependent on other people and not knowing what the future holds."

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An insurance settlement allowed Cindy Donald to pay for intense therapy and equipment to help her become more mobile. But at about $4,000 per month, therapy is a luxury that many other quadriplegics and paraplegics cannot afford (Donald estimates that she's paid $300,000 to $400,000 in out-of-pocket expenses over the past eight years.) In order to help others who have been through similar life-changing traumas, Donald decided to start her own foundation. In 2008, she launched The Cindy Donald Dreams of Recovery Foundation, which offers grants of as much as $15,000 to help offset the costs of recovery.

The foundation depends on the generosity of others in order to fund the grants. There are galas and golf tournaments each year, and their Walks for Recovery event is going on right now.

Instead of pledging money for each home run the Braves hit, Walks for Recovery raises money based on how many walks the team draws during the regular baseball season.

"People can donate as little as 10 cents a walk or as much as a dollar or two dollars," Donald says. The donations — including those from corporate sponsors — are tax-deductible.

"We've got a huge goal," Donald admits. The foundation has about 38 people waiting for grants, and "$500,000 would completely take care of our waiting list right now."

Donald knows that the money makes a real difference. Thanks to therapy, now she can feed herself, use her phone and computer, and operate a powered wheelchair. "I was never on a ventilator, but I couldn't move my head or arms or anything," she told Yahoo! Shine. Now, she lives with her boyfriend, John Cituk, and their American Bulldog, Bella. Her 30th birthday is coming up; they have plans to go SCUBA diving off the coast of Georgia.

Donald says that she doesn't blame her dad for what happened that day, back in 2005.

"I never blame God and definitely never blame my dad," she told NBC's Today show. "I think I have a great life, really. I'm lucky I've got a great boyfriend, I think. I've got a great family. I'm pretty much taken care of and I'm pretty happy."

Her father Jerry Donald, however, told NBC that he still struggles to deal with what happened.

"It was my fault," he said. "I wasn't looking where I was going. I was thinking about something else."

Her entire family helps out with her foundation, and Cindy Donald credits the accident for bringing them closer together, and for giving her a reason to succeed in life.

"Before the accident, I was just a regular 21-year-old college student," Donald told Yahoo! Shine. "I was in school for business management, but didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life. Now, I've really found a purpose and a passion."

"I learned a lot from the accident," she added. "This can happen to anybody. You just have to accept the cards you're dealt and deal with life as it comes toward you."

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