Diagnosis: SCI
Level of Injury:
Cause: Motor vehicle accident
Age at Onset: 21

The bathing suit arrived in the mail at Cindy Donald’s Atlanta home on March 25, 2005. It was a sunny day, so Cindy immediately ran upstairs to try it on. The pretty blond, a former cheerleader, decided to take the suit for a test drive, chatting all the while to her best friend on her cell. Cindy’s plan was to lay out on the sun-baked driveway until her dad came home to meet her for lunch.

When her father pulled up to the house, he thought he’d run over some random object in the driveway—anything but his little girl. Cindy was conscious the whole time her father’s car crushed her head. She saw the license plate against her face. She insisted she was fine, “I’m okay, I’m fine, I just can’t move my arms.” Or her legs.

When she woke up after surgery, she couldn’t move. She was in shock. But then, as it always does, reality set in. The hospital gave her a wheelchair. And Cindy began to figure out how to live her life sitting down.

Of course, for someone like Cindy, the sitting down part is purely literal. Nothing else about how she’s handled the situation could be construed as “sitting down.”

First there was the question of how to heal a family after an accident like that. Cindy is matter of fact about her family’s healing process. “I just keep reassuring my dad it isn’t his fault. We can go over it and over it in our heads, but nothing’s going to change.”

And then there’s the question of what to do now, with a life that’s taken an abrupt turn. And Cindy has a lot of plans for that new life.

Cindy graduated from Kennesaw State University last fall, with a major in business management. She now runs her foundation, Dreams of Recovery, full time. The foundation has a 12-person board, and facilitates four fundraisers a year. Cindy is constantly busy working on the marketing and planning, getting everything coordinated and running smoothly. A typical day might include a board meeting to discuss where to allocate funding, a radio show to promote a golf tournament, a therapy session, a meeting about a fundraiser . . . more than most of us accomplish in a week.

The foundation was born from Cindy’s injury. “When I got hurt, I had a whole bunch of people to support me, to go out and raise money for me to do therapy. But meanwhile, a friend of mine didn’t have enough to pay for her therapy. So I asked if we could split the money we’d raised so my friend and I could both do therapy. I know I’m more fortunate than a lot of people. So I wanted to start a foundation to help other people.”

But don’t let the foundation, the meetings, or the radio interviews fool you: Cindy has the same interests any pretty 25-year-old has. “I like this guy . . . I’ve dated a bit since I got hurt. You know, everyone felt so bad for my friend in a wheelchair when she broke up with her boyfriend. And I’m like, relationships are relationships—they’re not any worse just because you’re in a wheelchair!”

Cindy learned about the RT300 FES system while at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where she was air-lifted immediately after her accident. The Shepherd Center is a leading facility for the treatment, research, and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries and other neurological conditions. A researcher at the center told Cindy about a study on the RT300 FES system—she qualified, and got to use the system during an eight-week clinical trial. She kept up her work with the RT300 because it helped her accomplish so much, and she eventually purchased her own to use at her convenience.

Cindy insists she’ll keep up her regime for a lifetime. “It got my arms stronger. It works me out like a regular person. It’s so innovative the way it works you in different positions. It’s great for keeping your body healthy all over, AND my legs aren’t skinny! They’re still very muscular. And there’s no atrophy.” Cindy says that it helps with her cardio—she has sessions 3 times a week and still gets out of breath.  “After I get off, my arms move better. It gets my body going and active.” Cindy says that it’s helped to lower her meds by half.

When asked what she’d share with others about the RT300 system, Cindy says, “I do it to stay in shape. I don’t want to get fat in this wheelchair. I don’t want to lose what I have—in fact, I want to gain a lot more. I live by it.”