Mother, Son Survive Together, Alone

My son Elisha Zion Gallop is considered one of the youngest victims in history of a terrorist attack.

He was just two and a half months old on Sept. 11, and I was returning from maternity leave to my job as an administrative specialist with the U.S. Army. I was taking Elisha to register him at the Pentagon’s child care center.

We never made it to the day care center. My son was blown out of his stroller, covered under the debris that had caved in from the ceilings and walls. His injuries were to his head and his body, while his little lungs breathed in the toxins in the air. He was a perfectly healthy little boy, but now Elisha will be under medical observation until he is four or five years old. The doctors will not be able to determine if he suffered any impairment in his neurological development until he reaches this age.

I was injured along with my son—my hip, my head, as well as chronic migraines, backaches and spasms. But Elisha and I survived, and neither of us was severely burned. When I look into my son's eyes, I realize how grateful we both are to be alive. However, the pain of the memory is still fresh.

I was a single mother, working full time, carrying a full college load. I was picked up to work at the Pentagon because I had a top-secret clearance. Now, because of my injuries, I can’t get past a few pages reading a magazine or a book. My comprehension is not the same. I am about to be discharged from the military—from my job—because of my injuries. I will have to find a new path for my life, but what direction? I am working with a vocation rehabilitation specialist.

Because you cannot see my injuries, or those of my son, we are considered okay. We did not die; we were not burned, we fit into a category of victim that gets overlooked. When I apply for assistance, I have to submit the paper work over and over again, I have to call and call. Because I am in the military, it seemed I was just expected to pop back to normal, whatever that is defined as. Because my injuries were not severe, I was told I "should have been able to suck it up and drive on."

Just because there is no category for us, it doesn't mean we are less of victims. Please know, I strongly believe those who lost loved ones and were burned should receive all the support that is available. However, I don't believe or support the way victims are placed in categories. The people who think victims like my son and I don’t deserve to be compensated add to our pain. I am very happy to be alive, and very thankful for the life of my son. I just don't agree with how we have been treated in some instances.

We live with our disabilities every day. I never thought I would spend so much time in a hospital. Our regular visits with our array of counselors, doctors and therapists are a constant reminder of that day, keeping the memory alive.

Did we die? Obviously, no. Are we affected? Traumatically, yes. But I promised myself when I realized what had happened that day, that I would live my life as productive as possible so the deaths would not be in vain. So, I focus on recovery for many reasons. I push on for my son. What a transition! A new path? On this new road, I tell myself that I will ensure that both my son and I will use our lives to bring honor to those who died. I hope for the positive: a new lease on life; the ability to reprioritize; the ability to recover; the ability to heal.

April Gallop was an administrative specialist with the U.S. Army working at the Pentagon at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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