Donaldson had such a chronic back condition in 2004 that one specialist suggested retirement. But he was given the go-ahead after seeking a second opinion and on Sunday he held aloft the attractive silver Falcon Trophy in the desert.
It was his second European Tour victory and undoubtedly the most important, the blond Welshman having outplayed a lineup containing world number one Rory McIlroy and second-ranked Tiger Woods.
McIlroy and Woods missed the halfway cut before Donaldson had to overturn a two-shot deficit on world number five Justin Rose to scoop the first prize of 336,725 euros ($447,600) in the closing round.
"The first doctor I went to see in 2004 said, 'Don't play', so I went to see someone else," he laughed after a closing 68 gave him a 14-under-par aggregate of 274 at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. "That wasn't what I wanted to hear.
"As soon as someone says that, you just go and see someone else," said Donaldson after beating Rose and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen by one stroke. "The second guy I saw said I needed to do a load of core stability exercises ... so I did a lot of gym work for a year.
"Now I don't do that much gym work any more, to be honest I actually do none," Donaldson told reporters with a big grin on his face. "I do more physio stuff these days and I get massages before and after I play.
"But without doing the work I initially did nine years ago I wouldn't have carried on playing. The back was really bad then."
Donaldson, 37, who claimed his first European Tour victory at the 255th attempt when he won last year's Irish Open, blamed himself for his original injury.
"I used to practice ridiculously long hours to a point where I couldn't stretch before or after," he said. "I waltzed on to the practice ground and stayed there all day hitting balls.
"When you're doing that for years and years on end, you're going to have some sort of injury.
"Once I got over the hurdle of stabilizing everything I was in a position to manage the problem which I now do through physio and staying flexible and loose, rather than spending hours in the gym."
Donaldson lost his card in 2006 and was forced on to the second-tier Challenge Tour the following year before starting to rebuild his career back on the main circuit in 2008.
He has gradually improved season by season since then and is now at the stage where he can mix it with the best.
"Perseverance is a big word," said Donaldson who has climbed into the world's top 30 as a result of his victory in Abu Dhabi. "I suppose if I look back on my career I was in the wilderness for about four years after the injury.
"It was a case of finding things that work to put in the whole package to be able to keep getting better every year.
"Some of the top names didn't make the cut but they were here in Abu Dhabi and it made it a very big, grand tournament," said Donaldson.
"It was a tough field and a brutally hard golf course so that makes it all the more special for me."
($1 = 0.7524 euros)
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)