I WON POUNDS 22M ON A LAS VEGAS SLOT MACHINE BUT 6 WEEKS LATER A DRUNKEN
DRIVER LEFT ME PARALYSED.. I'D GIVE IT ALL BACK TO WALK AGAIN

THE fruit machine stands in the hall, a constant reminder of how in a matter
of weeks Cynthia Jay-Brennan became the "luckiest woman in the world" - and
the unluckiest.

Cindy, as she's better known, won a world record-breaking pounds 22million
jackpot on the Las Vegas slot machine. She quit her job as a casino cocktail
waitress, never having to worry about work again.

Poring over travel brochures with new husband Terry Brennan, she eagerly
planned trips to the planet's most exotic beaches. She also set up a trust
fund and gave cash to every member of her family.

Then, just 44 days later, Cindy's luck ran out - dramatically.

As she pulled up at a traffic light, a drunk-driver with 16 previous
convictions smashed into her car from behind. Sister Lela was killed. Cindy,
39, suffered such severe injuries that she was told she would never walk
again.

Today, she is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. She has to rely on
Terry to cut up her food, brush her hair and clean her teeth. Several times
a night, he gently turns her body to improve her circulation.

Yet Cindy, an intelligent, articulate woman, is determined to try to live
life to the full, refusing to wallow in despair or feel sorry for herself.

SHE says: "You just cannot sit around and cry all day. You don't realise how
precious each day is and fortunately, I'm a pretty positive person.

"But my biggest dream would be to walk again. I certainly know I would give
all the money back just to be where I was before the accident.

"I would just love to be back in my job and trying to make a living like
everyone else."

Cindy and Terry invited The Mirror into their home to see how they were
coping with their tragedy.

She can now move her upper arms slightly, meaning she can give Terry a hug -
albeit an awkward one. Yet if you look at her, you would never believe she
had been in such a devastating accident.

Cindy is tanned and attractive and always has a smile on her face. It's only
when you notice the colostomy bag strapped to her leg that you realise the
trauma she has endured.

Using her upper arms to control her pounds 8,000 motorised wheelchair, she
shows us around her home in an exclusive Las Vegas community. She used some
of her winnings to buy the beautiful house.

There are hardwood floors and wide entrances so she can move around. In the
back garden is a small swimming pool and she can sit and watch the
incredible sunsets over the mountains.

In the hall, Cindy shows us the megabucks machine on which she won the
jackpot, earning her the monicker "luckiest woman in the world" and a
mention in the Guinness Book Of Records. She says: "I hope that winning

the money had nothing to do with the accident. Sometimes, I think that maybe
Megabucks happened to help me with the disaster that followed. Maybe there's
a reason for me being like this."

After the accident in March last year, Cindy spent 10 days at a local
hospital before being airlifted to a specialist unit in Colorado. Screws
were drilled into her skull to hold weights that helped stabilise her
severed spinal cord.

Her weakened body was ravaged by infections. Over the next four months, she
had to come to terms with the full horror of her predicament. As doctors
tackled her physical injuries, psychologists began work on the mental and
emotional problems she'd face.

Cindy and Terry, married just five weeks before the crash, were asked
whether they felt they had a strong enough relationship to stay together.
Terry, 46 says: "The psychologist asked her: 'Have you given him the
opportunity to leave if he wants to?'

"Then he said to me: 'If you want to go, you need to tell her.' They told us
that in more than 95 per cent of cases of spinal cord injuries, men leave
their wives. But it never once entered my head."

Terry was only too aware their relationship had changed for ever -
emotionally, physically and sexually: "I just said to myself we've just got
to try to make this better - that's been my focus since day one.

"What we've lost in some areas, we've gained in others." As they speak in
the lounge, the couple look lovingly at each other. They have been married
for just 18 months but it's clear they are best friends as well as husband
and wife. It is also clear they feel they are "in this together" and will
adapt accordingly.

Cindy is working hard to regain fitness. She wants to be in the best
possible physical condition in case medical advances give her the chance to
walk again.

She goes to therapy sessions four days a week at a health centre she's
dubbed the "Rocky Gym" after the Sylvester Stallone film because her
regime's so gruelling. She is taken through stretching exercises, lifts
weights and has electrical stimulation to keep her muscles in shape: "It's
hard work but it's making a difference. I'm improving.

"My hands are still paralysed but my arms are getting stronger from the
wrist. At first, I couldn't move anything."

The conversation turns to the night of the crash. Cindy and elder sister
Lela had been out with their family in Las Vegas and were returning home
when they stopped at traffic lights. It was 10.17pm on March 11. Then, from
behind, came Clark Morse at twice the drink-drive limit. Travelling at
60mph, he careered into Cindy's Camaro.

The impact was so severe it killed Lela, 45, a talented pianist and
violinist, immediately.

Cindy remembers little of the accident. She says: "I was just talking to my
sister about how happy I was, newly married and the whole thing." It took
several days for her family to tell her Lela had died. They thought the
shock would cause a relapse.

"I asked about her several times and they said she was fine, but I
understand why they did that."

Morse got jail sentences totalling a possible 145 years. But Cindy says:
"The system let me down - he should have had a proper punishment earlier. He
was arrested 16 times as a drink-driver - and that's just the amount of
times he was caught.

"He didn't even seem sorry until the sentencing. But I'm in this chair, this
prison, forever."

CINDY can still recall, however, every detail of the night she won the
Megabucks jackpot at the Desert Inn casino:

"We'd planned to go to another casino but the show we wanted to see wasn't
on. So we went to the Desert Inn. I usually put $21 (pounds 15) in the
machines but decided to put six more in that day.

"Terry said: 'No more - you're already a loser!' I pushed the button and I
didn't believe it at first. I asked: 'Did I win?' and Terry said: 'Baby, you
WON!' I began hyper-ventilating - I knew how much it was worth."

Cindy was working as a pounds 260-a-week cocktail waitress at the Monte
Carlo casino when she met Terry.

Amazingly, he still works there. When he's working, friends and family care
for his wife.

He says his job gives him some self-respect and his own money to spend. It
also allows him some sense of "normality".

Terry pays tribute to Cindy's courage and tenacity: "She has class and
dignity. As I see it, if she can go another day, I can go another day.

"It has been very stressful for us but I have learned a lot. I love her very
much and she is a very special person and she never complains."

Cindy still goes out to restaurants and shows at the casinos. Occasionally,
she will visit the cinema.

But the preparation for each trip is immense. Terry says: "It's like
planning a United Nations mission just to go to a restaurant."

Their money is virtually untouched. They bought the house and a special van
and have given cash to family and friends.

Cindy still sighs when she thinks of the beach holidays she and Terry
planned. But her biggest dream is a simple one:

"I just wish I could get better."

mirrorfeatures@mgn.co.uk


__________________________________________________ __
Maksim (Max) Bily
mail to : imax@odyssee.net
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