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9/11 burn survivor Lauren Manning opens up about 20-year journey to recovery

Lauren Manning suffered burns over 80% of her body and was given a single digit chance of survival. Twenty years later, she shares her story of resilience.
/ Source: TODAY

Lauren Manning survived the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and now, 20 years later, she's sharing a message of hope and resilience.

On the morning of that fateful day, a phone call made Manning late for work to her job at Cantor Fitzgerald in the north tower of the World Trade Center. When she entered the lobby, the first plane struck.

"There was this whir of debris flying, and seconds later this fireball came and hit me from behind and kind of flung me toward the doors," she recalled on TODAY in 2002.

She ended up on a grassy median area nearby where she rolled around, trying to put out the flames that were consuming her body. In those moments she thought of her husband, Greg, and her then-10-month old son, Tyler.

"I did not want to die," she said in the 2002 interview. "I prayed to God, I screamed to God to let me live for Tyler and my husband."

Manning was rushed to the hospital and spent more than a month in a medically induced coma. There were burns over 82% of her body and, with a survival rate in the single digits, she underwent dozens of surgeries.

Over the next several months, she relearned how to walk and how to use her hands, all while raising her son.

Over the years, TODAY followed Manning's long road to recovery.

"I was given a shot that many people weren't," she said in 2011.

Since then, Manning has lived her life to the fullest, writing a book about her experience and raising money for charity. Amazingly, she welcomed a second son, Jagger, in 2009.

Lauren Manning with her family.
World Trade Center attack survivor Lauren Manning with her family, including her son Tyler, who was 10 months old at the time. TODAY

"At the end of it all, there's nowhere to go but forward," she said in 2011.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Manning sat down with Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie to share her incredible story, and how she mustered the will to live in the first few moments of the attack.

"I felt myself going under," she told Hoda and Savannah. "In that moment it probably would have been so much easier to die, but I don't even believe that death would have taken away the pain."

"I thought of my son, I screamed and called to him, 'I won't leave you now. I can't leave you now'" she said. "And so I decided, and I made a choice to live."

Manning also said she was pushed on by seeing her what she believed were her coworkers and friends caught in the building.

"I looked up at the towers and the bodies were falling and I knew my offices were where some of the individuals were coming from. They were my colleagues and they were my friends and so I vowed to avenge them," she said.

Savannah pointed out that she avenged them by going on tobeat all the odds and by living.

Manning said that after two months in a coma, she woke up and saw pity in the eyes of the caretakers who told her she would not be going home anytime soon. So she made it her mission to beat the odds.

"I wanted 100% recovery, which is impossible," she said. Instead, she created what she calls a "charade" where she would be uninjured. "It helped sustain me," she said.

Lauren Manning on TODAY Saturday at the site of the World Trade Center Memorial
Lauren Manning on TODAY Saturday at the site of the World Trade Center Memorial TODAY

Hoda asked Manning what it was like to explain to Tyler, who is now in college, what she went through on that day.

"Tyler grew up with a mom who was wrapped in masks and bloody bandages and had incredible issues for so many years and he was always by my side," she said.

Tyler suffered his own form of PTSD years later, in a way taking on his mom's wounds, she said.

"But he is doing fantastic now and he's joined by his little brother who we fought to have in every which way," she said. "I got my wish to have two boys."

Now, 20 years later, Manning thinks about the "extraordinary heroism of those in uniform and those that were not in uniform. All of the people that came, and saved and helped one another."

"My heart, my hope and my thanks goes out to each and every one of them that not only do we never forget but that we find this to be a day of hope."