Invincible: World Trade Center Attacks Survivor Lauren Manning

Badly burned in the World Trade Center, Lauren Manning had the will to live.

By Gail Cameron Wescott from Reader's Digest | March 2004

Finding Strength
Dr. Roger Yurt, director of the New York-Presbyterian Burn Center, was optimistic. “Lauren is unusual,” he says. “She puts out 300 percent.”

The milestones — sitting up, standing, taking a step –accumulated. On December 11, three months after the attack, Lauren walked on her own out of the Burn Center to continue her treatment at Burke Rehabilitation Center in suburban White Plains, where she would live for the next three months. At Burke, Lauren began a rigorous regimen of physical and occupational therapy. And the biggest obstacle of all were her hands.

“There would be good days and bad days, breakthroughs and days when I’d feel like I couldn’t do anything,” Lauren says, looking back. “I still remember the first stretching of my fingers when almost every movement brought intense pain.” As she moved through the exercise and therapy sessions, her eyes would well with tears. But she flatly refused to stop. “I’m fine,” she would tell the therapists. “Just keep going.”

Lauren has now had more than 20 surgeries, seven in 2003 alone — complex skin grafts, scar revisions — with more still to come. To get through each day, she has needed 24-hour assistance from two women who work in 12-hour shifts. Just getting dressed is daunting for her. For the first 22 months, Lauren had to wear cumbersome, pressurized Jobst garments and gloves 23 hours a day to prevent scars from thickening and hindering her movements. “It’s like wearing this really tight body stocking — the tighter the better,” she says. “It’s incredibly claustrophobic and hot. And impossible to get in and out of without help.”

In August 2003, to her relief, the required time was cut in half; now she wears the garments for 12 hours at night. “Oh, freedom!” she exclaims. “If Greg or Tyler and I are going someplace, I can now just run out the door without all that paraphernalia. I used to need help just getting a jacket on. Now I can put it on myself.”

Certain losses are permanent. Because of her fragile skin, Lauren cannot go outside without special sun-blocking protective clothing. “I used to love lying out in the sun for hours,” she says wistfully. “Remember baby oil and all that?”

Between surgeries, a daily routine has evolved in the Manning household. Greg takes morning duty with Tyler, who is now an energetic toddler enrolled in preschool, getting his milk and starting his breakfast. Lauren once loved to cook, but she spends little time in the kitchen now. “My skin is still so sensitive,” she says. “If I get a cut, it takes twice as long to heal. So I have to be very careful.”

Tyler, enchanted with his first backpack, loves to yell, “Bye, Mom, I’m going to school!” while Lauren revels in the ordinary everyday-ness of it all. Greg, a senior vice president at Eurobrokers before 9/11, departs next. Since November 2002 he’s been part of the management team at Cantor Fitzgerald, Lauren’s company, which lost 658 people in the attack. “It’s more than just rebuilding a business,” Greg says. “It’s working on behalf of families of people who were Lauren’s colleagues.”

While Lauren hasn’t been back to the office to visit — “It’s not the time yet,” she says — she did speak at the firm’s Central Park memorial on the anniversary of 9/11. She asked families and friends to clap instead of standing for a moment of prayer. “I want to clap until my arms ache,” she told them, “to make so much noise that God can hear us…that we celebrate the time we had with them.” The applause was thunderous. She also quoted from a favorite Wordsworth poem that comforts her: “We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains…”

Those words have become a sort of mantra. “I’m angry absolutely,” she says, “but I don’t live with it. I don’t want to give the terrorists any more time than they’ve already taken from me. I’m grateful to be alive.”

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