Hi, I’m Donna Marini
I broke my neck into an auto accident in Lakeland, FL on the night before my 21st birthday. It happened just after I dropped off a friend at home following a night at the mall. It was my first time driving to her home and I was unaware that there was a dangerous intersection at the end of her street with no stop signs. When I approached the intersection, the oncoming traffic and roadway were not visible to me. It was dark, the road was inclined, and the vegetation was overgrown. I unknowingly drove into the intersection and was hit by an oncoming car going about sixty miles an hour.
The last thing I remembered about that night was putting my car in reverse and backing out of my friend’s driveway. The next thing I remembered was waking up days later in a hospital, moving in and out of a drug-induced coma.
The hospital they transported me to did not immediately check for spinal injuries and did not take precautions as they moved me from bed to bed and pulled my sweater over my head. Once they finally took x-rays and saw my neck was broken, they decided to drug me up until they could send me to a hospital with a spinal unit. They put me on opium and that’s how I stayed for weeks, oblivious to what happened to me.
My parents then visited hospitals in Orlando and Tampa that had spinal units to see where I should be transferred. They decided on Orlando. But before the hospital would accept me, I needed to be taken out of the coma and told my neck was broken.
My parents then came back to Lakeland and put things in motion. I was taken out of the coma, and then my mom and dad told me I had broken my neck and was paralyzed and would never walk again. I was in shock and refused to believe it. I thought if you broke your neck, you died. I never knew you could end up paralyzed and in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. It was exceedingly difficult to understand and accept, especially because of the drugs they were giving me.
After my stay in Lucerne Hospital in Orlando, I went to a transitional living facility and learned how to take care of myself and live independently. I learned how to transfer into a shower chair, take a shower, transfer back into bed, dress myself and get myself up for the day. Then came things like cooking, cleaning, driving, and getting on with what my new life would become. The process was excruciating. It was like boot camp for an injured person. But I pushed though because I decided I still had some living to do. I eventually bought my own home and lived on my own as a paralyzed person. It was hard, but I fought for my independence so I could live life on my terms.
I did modeling work before my accident and decided to get back into it. I’ve done many jobs over the years since then for companies like Dillards, Sears, Disney, Universal Studios, and others.
These days I spend time mentoring newly injured people, encouraging them that life goes on after a spinal cord injury and that you can still be productive and make an impact on the world. When I got injured, I didn’t have anyone to look to, expect for a social worker who couldn’t understand what I was going through. So, I do my best to be an example for others.
I was instrumental in getting a new transitional living facility built here in Orlando, after the one I went through closed its doors due to a lack of funding. It was devastating. I was thinking, what would I do if I were injured today and couldn’t get the help I needed when I did? It took many years of pounding the pavement to get somebody to help. Finally, one day I knocked on the door of a developer named Beat Kahli in Orlando. He listened to my story and built a new facility in his development Avalon Park. They hired the people that I recommended, and that facility has helped many spinal cord and brain injured people in the years since.
Along the way, I even got married. I went to buy Orlando Magic tickets back in the early 90’s and met a man named Mike Marini who worked for the team. He put me on a waiting list for tickets. Well not only did I get the tickets, I got the guy. We’ve been married for 25 years now.
I just launched a new business. My product is called Sunbands, and you can read about that on the next page.
I hope everybody remembers that old saying, that you never appreciate what you have until it’s gone. Everything can change in an instant. So please appreciate the fact that you can jump out of bed, walk, run around, play, and do the simple things we all take for granted. Be kind to others. Be patient. And take a break from your problems and go help someone who needs it. Let’s all try to leave the world a better place than we found it.