The diary of a 9/11 survivor: Lauren Manning

Laura Manning stands tall today.

Lauren Manning almost died on 9/11. But thoughts of her son pulled her through. Here, she records the key moments in her recovery since that day a decade ago.

September 11, 2001

I take a taxi to the World Trade Center, where I work at Cantor Fitzgerald; I’m annoyed to be running late. As I enter the ground-floor lobby of the north tower, I am engulfed by a wall of fire and burned over 82 percent of my body. I run from the building in flames, and the urge to simply close my eyes and surrender to the pain is overwhelming. But a vision of my 10-month-old son helps me find the strength to fight. In my mind, it is clear that I have made a choice: I’ve decided to live.

The collapse of the towers takes thousands of lives, among them hundreds of my friends and colleagues, but I am fortunate to reach Weill  Cornell’s William Randolph Hearst Burn Center. I am    sedated in a drug-induced coma state for more than six weeks before I next open my eyes, and I battle single-digit odds to survive for almost two months.

November 11, 2001
While I am still unable to walk or even sit up, I’m able to speak again for the first time. I surprise my husband, Greg, by whispering ‘hello’ as he walks into my hospital room.

December 12, 2001

I arrive at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital where I began an even more intensive schedule of the rigorous physical and occupational therapy that I began to receive at Weill Cornell. When I see my face in the mirror for the first time, my eyes are the same but my face has the look of a defeated boxer, and I turn to Greg and say, “I wish my tears could wash away my scars.”

March 11, 2002
Tyler, who was just 10 months old when I was injured, has been a frequent visitor at Burke; he’s masteed walking down its seemingly endless hallways. Greg, who has been sending notes to friends and family from my bedside, each one signed “Love, Greg & Lauren,” publishes his collected e-mails in what will become a best-selling book. As this first part of my story becomes known, countless thousands of strangers send letters of encouragement.

March 15, 2002
Six months and four days after leaving for work, I return home to stand once again on the cobblestones of Perry Street. I walk arm in arm with Greg back into our apartment, as my son, the beacon of hope who guided me home, takes his afternoon nap.?We share a slice of the birthday cake that has been kept in the freezer since I missed the party for his first birthday.

September 11, 2002
The weather is once again brilliantly clear, but high winds have caused debris to fall from the AOL Time Warner tower (then under construction). With Greg’s help, I needed to walk many blocks to catch a taxi to arrive in time to speak during the ceremony. I was in the early stages of healing, and every step brought fatigue and pain. I tell the families I wish to remember their lost loved ones as they lived, not as they died, and for a few moments the feelings for so many no longer with us takes a form other than tears.

Fall 2002
I am the keynote speaker for the convention of the New York State Occupational Therapy Association. I am named one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year for 2002, and I am given the award by Hillary Clinton. I first met Clinton while at Burke, where her warmth and her willingness to listen immediately put me at ease. I receive an Anti-Defamation League “Without Fear” award.

June 2004
I am a torchbearer as the Olympic Flame is carried through Manhattan. I jog three blocks with it, as Tyler calls out, “Mom, you’re an excellent runner.”

Summer 2004
I ride a bicycle again, and Greg and I attend the third annual Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund White Party in honor of Gary Lutnick, the younger brother of Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, and Edie Lutnick, who became the director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund.

Spring 2007
After many years living downtown, we move uptown. Tyler enters the first grade. After years of grinding surgeries, I am finally feeling stronger but still face  therapy. We have been trying to have a child since 2004.

August 25, 2009

Away on a family vacation in Rome, we are finally able to tell Tyler that he will be having a baby brother.

October 22, 2009
Our second son, Jagger, is born with the help of a wonderful woman who serves as our gestational surrogate. His arrival returns us to a world of innocence and trust that was taken when Tyler was just 10 months old.

June 19, 2010

For Father’s Day, Tyler, Greg and I return to the Central Park Zoo, this time bringing Jagger for his first visit.  The miracle as I stand with Tyler is that 10 months have become 10 years and I am still by his side. I marvel at the ability within all of us to survive and to heal.

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