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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Dancer's Wounds Have Healed, but Scars Remain

April 25, 1993|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Just before the verdicts in the civil rights trial of officers accused of beating Rodney G. King came in, we were a city of walking wounded, hobbling around on crutches of fear, holding our breath in anticipation of something awful.

Well, not all of us. Donna Simon was serenely confident that nothing would happen this time, that people simply aren't that "stupid." She, of all people, had reason to be worried.

I met Donna almost a year ago. She was propped on a couch in her Sherman Oaks condo, both legs bandaged; she'd been shot in Beverly Hills on the second day of the riots.

The 25-year-old singer and dancer had been walking back to the law office where she was temping when she came to the aid of a young man being attacked on Wilshire Boulevard by a woman with a crowbar. Donna was shot by the woman's companions. The bullets took chunks out of both legs.

A year ago, she wasn't sure she would be able to walk without a limp, let alone dance again. But last week, Donna fairly bounced into a Ventura Boulevard restaurant.

In September, still in a great deal of pain, she went ahead with a long-planned showcase for recording executives at Club Lingerie. She never mentioned that she'd been shot.

"I didn't want to tell the record companies what had happened to me because of how their minds work. It's weird, but they might think, 'Oh, well, maybe she'll never be right.' They couldn't know. So they came to my show, and I did the whole routine. And they loved it!"

She grew up at Slauson and Normandie, but Donna's inflection is pure Val. She scatters superlatives in her conversation: The generosity of strangers who sent her money last year is amazing , she'll be meeting with a music impresario next week who is just the best, she still cannot believe how incredibly stupid some of her friends were to loot last year.

After lunch, she rolls up the legs on her baggy jeans to show her scars. They are dramatic: 1-by-2-inch-deep brown gashes on the perfect calves of her long, thin dancer's legs.

"Pretty bad, huh?" she says, smiling.

For three months, Donna was unable to walk, unable to put any pressure on the stitches for fear of ripping open the wounds. The injuries put a strain on her romance, and she left the place she shared with her boyfriend, moving back in with her mother and sisters in her old neighborhood. The door frames of the house were too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair, so she scooted on the floor to get around. (Silver lining: "My arms got really strong!")

After her wounds healed enough to allow her to stand, she began physical therapy, three or four times a week. The worst part of that, she says, was having to pull the scar tissue away from her calf muscle to prevent the two from becoming attached as the muscle regenerated.

"It was really bad, worse than getting shot," Donna says. "I'm like, why do they call it therapy? What it is, is torture. "

She was also tortured by her health-insurance company, which battled over medical bills, and she had to hire a lawyer. During a deposition, she says she was made to feel like a criminal.

"The insurance company implied I wasn't really hurt that badly," Donna says. "I'm not easily ruffled, but they had me shaking. I got home and just collapsed."

She was out of work for 11 months, and received disability for only five.

She had rashes and shingles, and her weight--normally 115--dipped below 100.

Both legs ache when it rains.

Worse than that, Donna says with a sheepish grin, she got addicted to daytime TV talk shows.

If you listen to her words and ignore her cheerful delivery, it's clear that her recovery is not complete.

"Well, I am paranoid," she says.

"I don't go to ATMs at night. I watch the news and if anything bad happens, I'm sure it's gonna happen to me. When I'm in a car, I don't feel safe. At night, I have to have tons of people around me. I won't go anywhere by myself. I am suspicious of everybody. If I see a young kid dressing in today's trends, I am scared of him."

Donna, who never learned the identity of the man she helped, is not angry or bitter, and has been inspired by truck driver Reginald Denny's expressions of forgiveness.

"He got hurt a lot worse than I did," she says. "But his attitude is amazing. Bad things happen to everybody, just in degrees. I could be dead. But I'm alive! So I have a lot to be happy about."

Occasionally, Donna allows herself a little daydream: One day, she'll make it big, and one of the TV talk show hosts, maybe Arsenio or Leno, will book her as a guest.

She will not cover her legs. The host will ask her about her scars, and she will tell the dramatic story.

And maybe, sitting at home that night, will be the guys who shot her.

"Maybe they'll be watching the television," she says, "and they'll say, ' That's who we shot that day?' "

She smiles, deeply satisfied by the thought.

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