Abortion Clinic Bombing Victim Emily Lyons Speaks Out

A terrorist's bombing victim speaks out

On Jan. 29, a nail-packed bomb exploded outside the New Woman All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham, Ala., killing off-duty police officer Robert "Sande" Sanderson and maiming nurse Emily Lyons.

Lyons, the 42-year-old mother of two daughters, had her shins blasted away, her left eye destroyed and her right eye severely damaged. Her entire body was riddled with nails and shrapnel.

She has endured nine surgeries, lengthy rehabilitation to learn to walk again, and excruciating skin grafts and scrubbing of abscessed wounds. Her legs are still mutilated, her face and eyelids remain scarred, and shrapnel still works its way out of her body, requiring additional surgeries. Some will never be removed.

With her damaged hands, she will never again play the piano; with what is left of her vision, she can barely read. Her hearing has been damaged. And she still faces a probable year of continuing medical procedures.

The Intelligence Report interviewed Lyons and her husband, Jeff, about her injuries, their life since the attack and their feelings about accused bomber Eric Robert Rudolph, who was still a fugitive after a six-month manhunt. The Intelligence Report also spoke with Felecia Sanderson, widow of the slain policeman.

INTELLIGENCE REPORT: Emily, could you describe what you've been through medically in the last six months?

EMILY LYONS: Does "hell" describe it? How many hours do we have? I spent eight weeks in the hospital. I've had nine surgeries, and I've got plastic surgery left to go. I still have one big piece of shrapnel in my chest that bothers me a lot and will have to come out.

The last surgery, about six weeks ago, was to put a lens implant in my eye. You wish that they could just put a pair of glasses on and clear up everything. But they can't, and my vision is still not clear.

That's been the hardest so far. For a day or so after the surgery, you're completely blind again, just like I was at the beginning. [Looks at Jeff.] You were back to feeding me, walking me to the bathroom, "don't let me go or I'll fall."

Now, my eyes are real sensitive to light. You also get this response where if the eye gets hurt, you'll pass out. After that operation, the doctor was checking my eye out, doing this and that, and I just said bye-bye. It's a different kind of pain.

JEFF LYONS: Some of these surgeries, when they had an abscess open they would leave it open. Emily had a major incision on her chest, like open heart surgery. They sewed the underlying muscle together but they left the outside open, because with the swelling it would have burst. They never did sew it up. It finally healed, but she had an open wound for absolutely weeks.

After getting out of the hospital, she had two more surgeries to remove more shrapnel. There is still a lot of shrapnel in there, but they say it will do more damage to take it out than to leave it.

She's had some areas that would abscess, or the shrapnel would move, so they would have to go back in and dig the nails out. The first surgery, they got five nails out of her right leg. Then they had to go back to get more metal fragments.

IR: How did the recovery process go once you were home?

JEFF: We would have to change the packing on some wounds once or twice a day. They have this stuff that's just like a cotton strip, but I guess it's soaked in iodine. You have to pack that in there.

To give you an idea, the first time I pulled the packing out from this little scar here [indicates a half-inch scar on Emily's leg], it was three-and-a-half feet long. That was from one little incision, packed under one little muscle. It was horribly painful.

EMILY: It was just... The fire is tremendous.

JEFF: I felt so sorry for her when I would change it. I'd put the sterile gloves on and she would hand me Q-tips to pack it with. You could just see the look on her face when she did that, like when you were a kid and your dad makes you go get the switch.

EMILY: It wasn't fun. If the day started out bad and you had that dressing on top of that, there was no way to control yourself. I remember one day in particular. The day started off bad and it was a bad night, no sleep. Then they told me it was time to take me to change the dressing on my legs. I just couldn't handle the pain from the scrubbing.

Then there were the days when you think, "Oh, I can do without the pain pills today. Let's try it." Where was the bullet to bite?

[Brings out photographs of the surgeries.] We have bad pictures, and we have really bad pictures. I won't even let my youngest see the really bad pictures.

JEFF: All these black dots [indicating photo of Emily's face] are one-stitch closures. She had dozens of them, from rocks and metal shrapnel, all over her face. Her lip was burst, her tooth was broken and her eyelids both had to be reconstructed.