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Thursday, January 28, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Abortion-Clinic Bombing Victim Refuses To Wilt

Newhouse News Service

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Nearly a year after she almost died in the Birmingham abortion-clinic bombing, Emily Lyons' dance card is crowded.

"It used to be it was doctors; now it's camera crews and newspapers," Lyons said.

She went to Atlanta to receive a Stand Up for Choice award, and to Oregon where she spoke at an abortion rights fund-raiser. A reporter from the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) wanted to chat online.

"I think of it as a rosebud: For 41 years, I was a tight rosebud that never opened," Lyons said. "But it just kind of blossomed this year, and it will not be wilted."

The shy, quiet Emily Lyons who worked as a nurse at New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic is not the same woman who survived the blast from the homemade bomb that was packed with nails.

The Emily Lyons before the Jan. 29, 1998, bombing never would have spoken out about abortion, she said. But the Lyons who has had 13 major surgeries so far and has to wear a false eye doesn't want to miss an opportunity.

In July, she testified at a congressional hearing on crime. Last month, she spoke at a St. Louis meeting of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"Up until this year, I didn't think I was in a war," she said. "But I've been to war now. I've been to hell and back. Somebody's got to listen."

Lyons doesn't remember much about the bombing that blew up her life and killed a clinic security guard, off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson.

But she has physical reminders that won't let her forget what happened.

Her legs are horribly scarred from the nails that punctured them and the skin grafts it took to cover the exposed bone. She walks with a limp. Two nails are still embedded in the muscle of her left leg and three pieces of metal are in her right. Sometimes, when they need to laugh instead of cry, she and her husband, Jeff, hang magnets on her legs.

A prosthesis has taken the place of her left eye, and she had to have a lens implant in her right eye.

Although Eric Rudolph, the suspect in the bombing, is still on the run, Lyons said she isn't afraid.

"That's one reason the media attention has been good," she said. "It's good that people are constantly reminded of that person. He didn't kill me the first time, so I'm not going to let fear kill me now."

Lyons said she feels safe in her house, the way she used to feel at the clinic.

"I'm just not afraid of it," she said. "I always said if you let that fear control your life, you let whoever did it take that much more away from you. I don't know how much more can be taken from me."

The first-, second- and third-degree burns have healed. Surgery she had in December - basically the equivalent of a face-lift - stretched the pock marks on her face. A purple scar runs all the way across her forehead, just at the hairline, and smaller scars dot her neck and ears.

It's the hurting that gets to her. "There's no end to the pain or discomfort right now," she said. "Every time you start to feel better, there's another surgery. Your body gets tired of hurting. You get tired of complaining about hurting and the people you complain to get tired of hearing it."

So instead, she and Jeff try to focus on the miracles of the past year.

"The left leg that was supposed to be amputated wasn't; the right leg that was supposed to always be in a brace isn't; the hand that was so badly torn will sign her name; the eye that was supposed to be blind will watch her kids grow up," Jeff said.

"In some ways," he said, "last year was probably the most rewarding year of my marriage, if not my life."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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