Occupational and physical therapists continued to work on her limbs, as they’d begun doing weeks before she was brought out of the coma. On November 12, Lauren’s physical therapists announced that her goal that day was to walk to a chair in the corner of her room, about 4 feet from her bed.
“I thought, ‘These people think that’s all I can do? That’s easy — I’ve got this,’” Lauren recalls. Within minutes, she discovered she didn’t have the strength to sit up on her own. Putting weight on her feet and her grafted legs for the first time in two months was excruciating.
“It felt as if my body was pulling apart. I almost passed out from the pain.”
Yet with help, she dragged her legs and made it to that chair, tears streaming down her face.
“I was elated,” she says. “I called it the day of the walking mummy.”
Three days later, determined and flanked by PTs once again, she walked 30 feet to the ICU nurses’ station. Nurses, doctors, and therapists crowded around. One of the occupational therapists ran out to the corridor, its walls covered with cards from well-wishers around the world, to get Lauren’s parents, exclaiming, “Lauren is walking!”
“I felt an incredible surge of freedom,” Lauren says. “Everyone was clapping and crying, and I realized that my fight was their fight and that we were a team. My triumphs were ours together and that this was our victory.”
Part of Lauren’s motivation was her son, Tyler, 10 months old the day of the attacks, who was not allowed to see her until 67 days afterward, when the risk of infection was less severe. In the time they’d been apart, he had his first birthday and learned to walk. The day of the visit he toddled past, not recognizing her.
“I could see he was afraid and uncertain, so I sang as best I could, having just had the tracheal tube removed, a little lullaby that used to soothe him,” she says. At last he turned toward Lauren. “He smiled at me. Everything I had fought and hoped for was embodied in that moment of recognition. That visit, and the ones that came after, fueled me forward.”