Invincible: World Trade Center Attacks Survivor Lauren Manning | Reader's Digest

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

Normal Joy
Lauren is usually out of the house by 9:30 a.m. Most weekdays she does some kind of physical or occupational therapy. Several days a week, she spends hours with therapists at New York-Presbyterian Hospital working on gym equipment and computer-controlled resistance machines. Other times, she works out at home or at a neighborhood gym — aerobics, treadmill, free weights. “Sometimes,” she says, “I just grab onto a bar and try to hang from it with as much body weight as I can.

Some ranges of motion I’ll never regain.” The skin on Lauren’s back is tight, due to skin grafting. “But I have to maintain what I have,” she says. “It’s a constant fight.”
Ordinary tasks have gradually become easier. “I can do some buttons, others not. It obviously takes a lot longer to put on a button-down Oxford than a sweater.” She can’t put on a necklace without help, and she cannot thread a needle. Putting on an earring can take forever. “But remember,” she cracks, “I only have to put on one, since I lost part of my left ear.”

Greg remains awed by Lauren’s diligence. “She does absolutely everything she has to do. And now we’re seeing results.” She, in turn, is awed by her husband’s support. “He is an incredibly hands-on powerful human being. He may forget the garbage and his office is more than a mess — but where it counts, he delivers.”

Their progression to what Greg calls “the normal stuff of life” is steady. They go out to favorite restaurants, spend evenings with friends. Lauren can now drive a car again for short periods of time. She waters her vines on the balcony and wonders if it’s too late to plant mums. At night, she reads stories to Tyler. There are, increasingly, the blissful moments when they forget what they’ve been through. Last winter, they watched as two feet of snow fell at their weekend house in Dutchess County, north of the city. “Lauren and Tyler and I were out there,” remembers Greg, “not worried about anything, just having fun, running around in the snow, having this wonderful time.”

Lauren’s eyes briefly mist. “It was just such normal joy,” she says.

Last summer, both Lauren and Tyler visited a riding stable and trotted around on horses. Then, one afternoon, watching Greg and Tyler out in the yard with a Wiffle ball and bat, Lauren was astounded to see her son pop one high in the air. “I got right out there and batted with him,” she says. “That was really great. That’s the stuff that matters.” She roughhouses with her son regularly. Greg used to worry that she might hurt herself; now he says he feels more like a referee.

“Lauren and Tyler have a fabulous relationship,” he says. “People have asked us, ‘What will you tell him about 9/11?’ We’ll tell him what he needs to know. What he knows right now is that his mom is here. That’s enough.”