World Trade Center Attack Survivor Lauren Manning: A Long Road Back to Health

September 2006, and Lauren Manning looks terrific. Striding across the lobby of a Manhattan high-rise, she exudes the confidence she

September 2006, and Lauren Manning looks terrific.

Striding across the lobby of a Manhattan high-rise, she exudes the confidence she once routinely projected as a senior vice president and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm that lost 658 people on September 11, 2001. That day as she entered the building, a fireball raced down the elevator shaft and blasted her back out, burning more than 82% of her body. Doctors gave her just a 15% chance of surviving.

“I really am feeling great,” she says by way of introduction. “I have a lot more strength and am ready to move forward with a more normal life — which is a tonic in itself.”

Lauren Manning Normal life doesn’t yet include resuming her business career, but it does encompass ordinary activities that once seemed unattainable. Like walking her five-year-old son, Tyler, to his new kindergarten class, or racing after him in Hudson River Park as he speeds away on his Razor scooter. With the help of a specially fitted Velcro glove, Lauren can now hold a tennis racket. “I can’t serve yet,” she says, “but I’ll figure that out.” Adds her husband, Greg, “Here’s another milestone: Tyler is into football and Lauren is the one who taught him how to tackle.”

Now 45, Lauren cannot believe that five years have passed since 9/11. Tyler was just ten months old when his mother dashed out of their Greenwich Village apartment on her way to work. She was running late. Greg — then a senior vice president, director of sales and marketing with Euro Brokers, and now a vice president of intellectual property with Cantor Fitzgerald — had an 8:30 a.m. conference at Tower One’s Windows on the World. But he missed the meeting because he, too, was running late. If everything had gone as planned, Lauren would have been on the 105th floor and Greg would have been on the 107th when the plane hit.

During Lauren’s long road back to health — an excruciating process she once described as pushing a rock uphill every day — she’s endured more than 25 surgeries, including skin grafts and scar revisions to her back, face, and hands. The physical breakthroughs have been hard won. She’s finally shed the stifling pressure garments she wore 23 hours a day to keep scar tissue from forming; last year she finished five years of rehab treatments.

She still works with physical and occupational therapists, who help stretch her delicate hands, devastatingly seared on Tower One’s hot metal lobby doors. Susan Scanga, one of her therapists, says, “Lauren was so badly burned that there’s not much there except scar tissue and bone. To me, it’s a miracle she even has hands at all. Still, she looks you in the eye and says, ‘I don’t have bad days.’ ”

Lauren sees parallels between her son’s first five years of life and her own five-year journey back. “Tyler’s gone from a carriage to crawling to walking to a scooter to learning to ride a two-wheeler,” she says.

Simultaneously, she’s had to learn how to sit, stand, walk, drink from a cup, and use a knife and fork.

Recently, Tyler has made his own discovery of what his mom went through that terrible day. In September 2005 he watched his parents appear on the
Today show. Shortly after some 9/11 footage rolled, Tyler asked his mother why she ever went into the building that day. “I wish you hadn’t been hurt, Mommy,” he said.

Lauren and Greg work hard to give their young son the right messages. “We tell him that some bad guys did a bad thing, and that’s how Mommy was injured,” says Greg. They offer Tyler reassurances that it’s not going to happen to him, and that his parents will protect him no matter what.

Are they planning to have any more children? Lauren’s quiet reply: “We would love to.”

In the meantime, they’re enjoying what they have. It’s the unplanned pleasures they truly value. Tyler has gotten into playacting, and he’ll suddenly suggest a script. “You be the princess,” he’ll say to Lauren, “and I’ll be the knight. Caleigh [their dog] can be the dragon.” With that, they’re off.

Lauren smiles as she tells the story. “Life doesn’t get any better,” she says.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest