Dana Vulin is the type of woman who never, ever gives up. She spent more than two years sleeping strung up in a crucifix position and endured countless surgeries after she was almost burned alive by a delusional woman who broke into her house and doused her in methylated spirits in 2012.
Dana’s attacker had been stalking her for months. Her insane jealousy was motivated by the false belief Dana was involved with her estranged husband.
During the early hours of February 16, 2012, Natalie broke into Dana’s house with a male accomplice, set her on fire and laughed at her burning figure while she fled the horrific scene.
The attack left Dana with third-degree burns to 64 per cent of her body and face.
Within seconds Dana’s former life – her physical functioning, independence, goals and dreams – had been ripped away from her.
When she woke up from her coma 10 days later, Dana’s body was in ruins. But she refused to give up the will to live, and her remarkable recovery has continued to inspire Australia. So how could a trusted friend and charity worker rob this miracle survivor of money raised to help her recovery?
“As if I haven’t been through enough,” Dana tells Woman’s Day in an exclusive interview last week. “I’ve been burned alive, endured a huge public trial (in a full-body pressure suit) and I’ve had cancer of the cervix.”
Dana can only now talk about Samantha McClymans’ cruel betrayal because she has been jailed for her crimes. As former chief executive of the Survivor Foundation, McClymans stole more than $37,000 from a fund that was set up to help Dana pay for her surgeries.
The money was gifted to Dana, 32, from generous public donors, including pensioners and children, and Dana is still in absolute disbelief.
“I feel really upset for all the people who wanted to help me and donated, when it’s obvious many of them didn’t have much to give,” she says. “It tears at my heart when I think about all the messages that accompanied the donations…
“Like the kids who gave me all their birthday money or the pensioners who gave, then said, ‘I don’t have much, but…'”
McClymans, 42, has been jailed for two years in Perth’s Bandyup Prison, along with Dimitrovska, who was jailed in 2013 for setting fire to Dana.
“At least they’ve got something to talk about,” says Dana.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or bad thing they’re in jail together, but I do know it’s where they both belong.”
Dana admits that when she first met McClymans, she instinctively felt she had a dark side. “She didn’t seem genuine and there was darkness to her,” recalls Dana, who nevertheless over time began to trust the Perth mother.
“We’d go to events together, she’d come to my house for coffee and my sister donated a heap of office furniture to her dad’s business. I supported her a lot,” she says.
The problems started in late 2015, when donations dried up and Dana decided to close her page down and access the funds.
“To access my money, which was nearly $60,000, I was told to fill in documents but when I provided them [McClymans] would ask for more,” adds Dana, who was puzzled by the process.
Dana was subjected to bizarre excuses, including everything from the “bank won’t pay out a lump sum” to the police had told McClymans Dana was “under investigation”. Then, 18 months later, some small amounts finally started being transferred into Dana’s bank account.
“It stopped at $18,000 and when I asked why, [McClymans] texted me saying the business was under investigation and all the accounts had been frozen!
“This made me angry. I’d been stuffed around for so long.
I started demanding my money back. What a horrible woman. I’d opened my family to her,” she says.
Dana helped the police with their investigation into McClymans’ theft, but doubts she’ll ever see the missing money.
“I’ll never get that money back, but it doesn’t mean I won’t try,” says Dana, who’s preparing for more skin replacement surgery in August.