On Thursday, less than a week after he signed an order for a team of SEALs to take out Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani compound, President Obama will visit the World Trade Center site in New York. He’ll participate in a wreath-laying ceremony and meet with families of September 11th victims as well as first responders.
The words and presence of the President—now riding a wave of popularity after ending the taunting existence of the 9/11 fanatic—no doubt mean a great deal to those who lost loved ones and those who survived the attacks. But one woman who was burned on more than 80 percent of her body but escaped death won’t be there: In her mind she beat bin Laden long ago.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Lauren Manning, newly married, a mother of one, was headed for the 105th floor of the north tower, where she worked as a managing director and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, the investment bank occupying several floors of offices in the World Trade Center. She was running late that day.
Just as Manning opened a door to the building’s lobby, a fireball raced down an elevator shaft and blew her violently, suddenly, back. Her hands, face, neck, and back were scorched. In seconds, she became one of the thousands of those injured or killed by bin Laden’s minions. An inconceivable 658 of her colleagues at Cantor Fitzgerald were killed.
A bond salesman helped get Manning into an ambulance. Shortly after that, doctors gave her just a 15 percent chance of survival.
“I was a made a prisoner in my own body by hateful fanatics,” she says in her forthcoming book, Unmeasured Strength. “Every day, I had to face my enemies and commit to outlasting them. Would I let their act of terror beat me into submission? Would I let them win? Every day, I had a choice.”
Manning was one of 18 burn victims treated at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Burn unit. In the five years that followed, she endured more than 25 surgeries, including skin grafts and scar revisions to her face, hands, and back.
She spent three months in the hospital and many more months in rehab. She wore pressure garments 23 hours a day so that scar tissue would not form. She worked constantly at “learning to live again.” Everyone spoke of her fortitude, her determination – and her refusal to give up. Her husband, Greg, even wrote a book about her battle back to a place of health, Love, Greg and Lauren.
When she heard the news of bin Laden’s demise, Manning, now 49, said: “The physical and emotional pain of [September 11] – the loss of colleagues, friends, first responders, the agony of families whose lives were forever shattered – will never fade completely. But the courageous men and women in our armed services fulfilled a promise to the American people, and renewed our faith that one day the world can be made free of terrorism and its instigators.”
How typical of Lauren Manning to put the emphasis on our military – on their courage, their fortitude – and to take the spotlight off herself.
People like Manning escaped with their lives on 9/11 and were extremely lucky in so many respects. But they’ve also struggled for years in the shadows, pushing day after day against physical and emotional setbacks, financial challenges, wrenching challenges of all kinds. We can’t forget any of this – or any of them. The price they’ve paid is just too high.
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