Heroes Among Us

Donnalyn Quintana Fulfills Rodeo Dreams for Terminally Ill and Disabled Children

07/04/2013 at 03:00 PM EDT

Texas Woman Grants Terminally Ill and Disabled Children's Rodeo Wishes
Quintana with, from left, Braydan Kilcrease, 9; Kaleb Dorr, 5; Colby Tiberg, 9; and, on horse, Chandler Davis
Matthew Mahon
When a child has a dream of meeting a rodeo star or having a horse of their very own, Donnalyn Quintana of Weatherford, Texas does everything she can to make it a reality.

"Every time I come away from granting a wish, my life is changed for the better," says Quintana, 65. "I feel that this was put into my heart for a reason."

Since 1994, Quintana has raised funds through her nonprofit Western Wishes to help more than 600 terminally ill or disabled kids. She has arranged visits with country star Reba McEntire and bull riding legend Tuff Hedeman and even bought a girl with cystic fibrosis her very own horse.

Kim Dorr says she'll never forget what Quintana did for her five-year-old son Kaleb, who suffers from TAR Syndrome, a rare blood disorder.



"For most of his life, Kaleb's biggest wish was to be a cowboy," says Kim, 34 of Wagoner, OK. "Donnalyn made him her poster kid in 2011 and Kaleb got to travel all over Texas, Oklahoma and Nevada to rodeos and meet all of his cowboy heroes."

He even got to meet Hedeman, his favorite.

"When he met Tuff, his face lit up," she says, "and he immediately ran to him and gave him a big hug. It was one of those melt-your-heart moments. Anybody who was in that room will never forget it."

A Promise Fulfilled

Quintana, who grew up in a family of rodeo professionals, first began to think of helping kids when she read about a young South Dakota competitive rodeo rider who was battling cancer in 1990.

"I thought, 'Someone should get [rodeo star] Roy Cooper to give him a call to brighten his day,'" she recalls.

Before she could do anything to help him, Quintana learned he had died. She was devastated.

"I thought, 'Could I have done something to make a difference in his life?' " she says.

Later that year, as she was wheeled into surgery to remove a throat tumor, she made a vow: "I said, 'Lord, if I survive, I'll help others like him.' "

Help from 90210

After actor Luke Perry of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame portrayed rodeo legend Lane Frost in the 1994 movie 8 Seconds, he has attended fundraisers for Quintana and met many of the kids she helps.

"Donnalyn's challenge is a unique one because the rodeo world is a subculture in many ways," he says. "I really appreciate the commitment that Donnalyn has. Every kid's a kid, they all have dreams, things they want to do."

He says he has been inspired by the kids he's met and Quintana's efforts to make them smile.

"She's a friend to everybody she's ever met," he says. "She's just trying to make sure people get to feel a little better. She has made it possible for hundreds of kids to live their dreams and she's given them a reason to hope."

Part of the Family

Last June, Chandler Davis, 6, of Glen Rose, Texas, who has a rare pancreatic disorder, got a wish fulfilled when he was sworn in as an honorary deputy sheriff and given a uniform and badge.

"Chandler was on cloud nine for days," says his mom, Jennifer Yocham, 25. "Donnalyn is family to us now."



Know a hero? Send suggestions to heroesamongus@peoplemag.com. For more inspiring stories, read the latest issue of PEOPLE magazine

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