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    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

    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."

    __________________________________________________ __
    Maksim (Max) Bily
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