When he was 12 years old, Donald lived through one of the most destructive disasters in American history, Hurricane Katrina. As the water filled up his house, Donald climbed on top of the refrigerator, and his mom got on the counter. "The more the water rose, the more we panicked," he says. "The windows shattered from the wind. The water's getting up high where we can't touch the floor anymore. My mom didn't know how to swim, and I didn't know how to swim."
Eventually, Donald's mom lost her grip on a curtain rod and drowned. In that moment, life without his mother seemed so unbearable that Donald decided to end his life. "I completely gave up. I decided to, you know, just sink to the bottom," he says. "I didn't hold my breath, because I just wanted it to happen as quick as possible."
Donald says as water began to fill his lungs, his will to survive took over and he paddled toward the only light he could see—a shattered window. "I think some spiritual force or God shattered that window as a final attempt of escape," he says.
Donald paddled out, cutting himself on the shards of glass sticking out, and climbed to the roof of his house. For the next 13 hours, he stayed on roofs above the flood line, waiting until help arrived.