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Then & Now: Lauren Manning

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Then: Lauren and Greg Manning prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

SPECIAL REPORT

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September 11 attacks

(CNN) -- On September 11, 2001, a fireball engulfed Lauren Manning as she arrived to work at the Twin Towers. Now, after suffering burns to more than 80 percent of her body, and being given a 10 percent chance of survival, Manning is nearing the end of physical therapy and savoring every moment of a life nearly lost.

The morning of the terrorist attacks, Manning, a vice president and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald bond trading firm, arrived in a cab in front of Tower One of the World Trade Center just moments after the first plane hit.

"I remember getting out of the cab and hearing an incredibly loud whistle," Manning recalled in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. "I plunged through the doors wondering what the noise was ... a fireball exploded through the bottom of the elevator shafts, and it caught me from behind and spun me towards the doors. I grabbed the handles, and they must have become super-heated, which is what caused my hand burns. I just plunged out, knowing I was on fire," she said.

Manning ran from the building, engulfed in flames. A stranger tackled her to the ground, extinguished the fire and then helped her, with the aid of another man, into an ambulance.

In addition to severe burns, Manning survived infections, pneumonia, more than eight surgeries and damaged lungs from smoke and, possible, fuel inhalation. She was unconscious for six weeks following September 11 and upon waking could barely move her limbs. On a ventilator for more than two months, Manning was not able to walk or eat on her own.

In the first hours, before going into a coma, and struggling with the unbearable pain, Lauren questioned whether she wanted to live. It was love for her 10-month-old son Tyler, and her husband, Greg, that ultimately inspired Lauren to continue the fight for her life.

"I chose to make it," she told the Chicago Tribune nearly a year after she was injured. "I'm not going to conduct my life in the confines of what these people did to me and my colleagues."

Strength and determination

During her recovery, Greg held vigil by her bedside, reading her poetry, as she lingered in a medically induced coma.

He also began writing daily e-mails to an ever-widening group of family and friends detailing his wife's recovery. His communications are chronicled in a book titled "Love Greg and Lauren: A Husband's Day-by-Day Account of His Wife's Remarkable Recovery," published by Bantam in March 2002.

"The most memorable moment for me, quite literally, came the morning of September 11 when I found her in the hospital and she told me that...she had decided to live ... that she'd felt that moment when she could have just given up and she said, 'absolutely no way,'" Greg Manning told CNN.

Manning's survival in the face of such grave injuries is attributed to her age -- 40 years old at the time -- and the excellent physical health she was in when she was injured.

It also has a lot to do with her attitude. "She was a fighter," said Dr. Robert Yurt, Manning's physician and director of the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center in New York. "She got up out of bed and walked faster than I've seen anybody do," he told The New York Times in 2001.

Milestones

More than 650 of her coworkers at Cantor Fitzgerald were killed in the September 11 attacks, and her survival has been a symbol of triumph for a company nearly decimated by the attacks. And Manning is ready to get back to work.

"I have a lifelong commitment to Cantor, certainly. The firm is an incredible tribute to what people can do in difficult times," she told CNN.

Her long, slow recovery has also been a symbol for a nation still reeling from the brutal attacks that killed 2749 people. But while her recovery has been nothing short of a miracle, it has not been without difficulties.

"I would say that having been presented with the terrible tragedy and trauma of the murdering of so many thousands of people that I, as a survivor, among the very few of us that made it out, feel privileged to have life and I have sought to make the most of every moment I have. It's been a long, tough haul, and I've put as much work into it as necessary to get the job done," she told CNN.

For Lauren, the milestones have been measured in small advances in her health and in the precious time she is able to spend with her now 4-year-old son.

"Regaining the use of my hands has been a very long-term process and has given me ... a great sense of accomplishment, she told CNN. She also says "being able to engage with my son and have fun with my family" has been key to her recovery.

Now that the recovery process is winding down, Lauren has a chance to think about the future.

'Well, there's a lot that, through my life, I haven't done particularly that well," said Manning. "So, I'm going to focus on them. You know, running better, running longer ... bike riding, and, again, (getting) back to work, and just spending time with my son and being there for him as he grows up."

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