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Pentagon survivor: 'It's a day-to-day struggle'

Shaeffer felt safe at the Pentagon even as the World Trade Center attacks were unfolding.  

From Rea Blakey
CNN Medical Unit

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Navy Lt. Kevin Shaeffer was standing in the Pentagon's Naval Command Center when Flight 77 crashed into the complex on September 11.

"I thought that was the safest place in the world," said Shaeffer, the only one in his office to survive.

"Even as we were watching what was unfolding up in New York City, we never thought that we were in any kind of danger, at any kind of risk," he said.

Within seconds, his illusions were shattered.

"There were people in front of me, behind me, to the left of me, to the right of me. ... And they didn't make it," said Shaeffer, who suffered serious burns in the attack.

Shaeffer is home after three months in the hospital and more than a dozen operations. He even endured unusual therapy in which doctors put live fly larvae on his wounds to help control raging infections.

Shaeffer said his biggest adjustment was getting comfortable with his altered appearance.

His wife, Blanca, also has faced major adjustments.

"When we got home, trying to get back to the normal life we had before, that was the really difficult part," she said. "I wasn't running on adrenaline anymore."

Shaeffer spends his day in physical rehabilitation either at Washington Hospital Center or at home on equipment the American Red Cross donated.

"I am still in quite a bit of pain," he said. "It's a day-to-day struggle."

The public show of support has been tremendous -- flags and cards, even a football. A promise from President Bush to play golf is what motivates him to keep getting stronger. No date has been set for their game.

Shaeffer is medically retired from the Navy, and he has no plans to return. But he said he would like to work in the Office of Homeland Security.

He said he believes his life was spared for a reason and he wants to help make sure no one else has to endure what he went through September 11.




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