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Issue Date: January 2007 Issue


Surviving a Terrorist Bomb

On Oct. 12, 2002, suicide bombers killed 202 people on the Indonesian island of Bali. Sophie Sureau was there. The 35-year-old survived. On her road to recovery, she spent time with family in Canada; got married; founded a nonprofit to help burn victims and, after her husband’s transfer to Cleveland, became executive director of the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She recently returned to work after the birth of her daughter, Chloe.
I was a total workaholic, a very successful sales manager for a market-research company in Brazil. My career was skyrocketing, but I wasn’t happy. My boyfriend and my family were not a priority for me. I had a 6-month-old niece, Valerie, whom I hadn’t met. I was hoping a vacation would give me a break.

It happened 36 hours after we arrived in Bali. We didn’t feel like going out that night, but eventually headed off to this street with bars and lots of activity.

We had been there about a half hour when we heard a boom across the street. We knew it was a bomb. Jeff and I looked at each other and thanked God it wasn’t happening to us.

Then the second bomb exploded.

I regained consciousness when I felt people walking on my back to escape the flames. I tried to get up, but was pinned by pieces of tables and chairs.

Suddenly, I felt the heat. The rayon silk dress I had on started to burn. My left arm, back and face were burning. I buried my face in the palms of my hands to protect it.

I began to picture myself dying, like in a movie. I saw myself from when I was a kid all the way through: my sisters, parents and then, finally, the one image that stopped me, my niece. I felt so bad that I was going to die without meeting her.

I felt this extreme force of adrenaline and survival invading me — like the Hulk. I was able to push myself out with my hands. I walked toward the street. My feet hurt so bad, just horrible pain.

I saw this couple on a scooter and asked the girl if she would mind getting off so the man could drive me to the nearest hospital. He was probably so disgusted, my skin was hanging off and I was bleeding all over.

I still hadn’t seen my boyfriend Jeff, but I never thought of him. My own life was still in danger.

The man drove me to the first hospital, but it was so crowded. They were unloading trucks of people — just piled up, probably half of them were dead.

We finally found another clinic. They threw me in the shower where a nurse in a transparent rain jacket, gloves and mask helped remove my dress from my wounds. The adrenaline was so strong that I didn’t feel the pain.

The next day, I was transferred to another clinic, where I found Jeff walking in the hallway. Since that moment, we have called each other husband and wife. We were alive and back together. For us, that was our first wedding.

I had second- and third-degree burns over 23 percent of my body and needed to be airlifted to Singapore. But we had to pay $25,000 up front for the flight on a horrible South African army plane. We were lucky to find a way to have the money wired. I found out later that my travelers’ insurance didn’t cover acts of terrorism.

I spent 35 days at the Singapore hospital having skin grafted from my thighs and waist to my arms, right foot, legs and back.

This accident happened for a reason. It was like I was running at full speed and ran right into a glass window. I still have scars, but in a way I think they’re good. They remind me of what my priorities are. They remind me that I have to be a better person. Family has become No. 1.

The first time I saw Valerie, I wasn’t able to hold her because of my injuries. It felt so good when I finally could. I felt like thanking her.

Not only am I alive, but I’m an improved version of who Sophie was. I’ve really changed.— as told to Colleen Mytnick

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