- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

Tom Cruise has played many roles in his Hollywood career but this year he starred as Santa Claus for Ashley Flint of Buena Vista, Va.

Mr. Cruise donated $5,000 when he learned Ashley’s single mom was struggling to pay medical bills from a September go-cart accident that nearly killed the 11-year-old girl.

He made the donation at a Dairy Queen last week by stuffing a donation jar with $100 bills while in Lexington, Va., filming “War of the Worlds.”

“I certainly didn’t expect the Lord to send somebody from California to come and help us,” Ashley’s mother, Regina Cornwell, told The Washington Times. “I was in such disbelief that he would take the time and care to do that. I just believe that God has taken care of us.”

According to the News-Gazette, Mr. Cruise came into the Dairy Queen with his entourage near closing time on Dec. 15 and ordered a large mocha Oreo blizzard.

The newspaper reported Mr. Cruise also noticed Ashley’s photo and asked if he could donate to the cause.

Dairy Queen employee Russell Clark is one of Miss Cornwell’s friends and phoned her right away. “He called and told me what Tom Cruise had done, and I just couldn’t believe it,” Miss Cornwell said.

Ashley could only say, “Wow,” but later told reporters that Mr. Cruise is a “hottie.”

She is planning to make him a Christmas card.

Ashley suffered severe head injuries Sept. 24 when her go-cart rolled on top of her and tore an artery in her neck. She has had three surgeries so far and will undergo another on Feb. 3.

The bills are coming from three hospitals, a slew of doctors and the ambulance company.

The artery tears are so dangerous that doctors will have to monitor her progress for three years — an expensive prospect.

Miss Cornwell, 42, said doctors have called Ashley’s recovery a “miracle.”

She is recovering nicely despite problems with her vision and short-term memory and now attends school half-days.

Miss Cornwell has had to take unpaid leave from her job at a local bank, which has set up a special savings account for the family. The money from donations — including the one from Mr. Cruise — will pay the bills.

Mr. Cruise and most of Steven Spielberg’s film crew have left town, but they might return.

“I’d love for my daughter to be able to meet him,” Miss Cornwell said. “We’re just really, really grateful.”

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