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Anthrax survivor: 'They can't possibly win'

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Norma Wallace, the New Jersey postal worker who fought off death after contracting inhalation anthrax, said Friday she was "selected by God" to survive and her recovery sends a message to those responsible for the tainted letters

"I feel good that I am a survivor because that says to the people that are perpetrating this terrorism on our nation that they don't have a fighting chance," Wallace told CNN. "They can't possibly win."

Wallace said she harbors no bitterness over her experience, saying there "was so little known at the time" about anthrax.

Wallace, a mother of two grown children, worked at Trenton's main postal distribution center, in Hamilton Township, where three anthrax-laced letters are believed to have been processed. Seventeen people have contracted anthrax infections; four of them died. Like Wallace, those four had inhalation anthrax.

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Anthrax by the numbers
17 total anthrax infections

  -- 10 cases inhalation anthrax (4 dead)

  -- 7 cases cutaneous anthrax

Source: CDC/CNN

Wallace said she thinks she was exposed October 9 when a machine she was working on jammed twice and a mechanic had to blow dust out of it.

"I was probably exposed then," she said, speculating that the anthrax spores were on that machine.

Wallace said she worked one day with chills and a fever, and she didn't realize the severity of her illness until she went to her doctor and he told her to go to the emergency room immediately. There, she said, doctors began treating her with an "aggressive" regimen of antibiotics, although the diagnosis of inhalation anthrax was not confirmed for another week.

The doctors, she said, removed more than six gallons of fluid from her lungs during the course of her hospital stay. She was released from the hospital Monday after an 18-day stay.

Wallace said there are blocks of time she can't account for while in the hospital.

"I did realize my own self that I was close to death," she said.

She is not certain if or when she might return to work.

Wallace said she is not considering a lawsuit against the postal service -- criticized by some workers for responding slowly to the crisis -- but she has consulted her personal attorney for another reason.

Reporters, she said, have deluged her with calls, and even come onto her property.

"I wanted to know what my rights were," she said with a smile.


• CDC: Public Health Preparedness and Response

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