PUBLISHED: 5:24 PM on Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Jackie Pflug: Living life to the fullest ANYWAY
Pillars of American Freedom

Nineteen years ago, Jackie Pflug was on board EgyptAir Flight # 648 when three hijackers took over the plane and forced it to land in Malta. The hijackers threatened to execute one passenger every fifteen minutes until they got fuel.

After having to watch fellow passengers being executed, the turn came to Pflug. She was shot in the head and thrown out of the plane, where she spent five hours on the tarmac, drifting in and out of consciousness, before airport personnel were allowed by the hijackers to pick up the "dead body."

59 passengers on flight 648 died. But Jackie lived. She suffered vision loss and short-term memory problems because of brain injuries, but she lived.

At first, Pflug said in an interview Monday, she asked herself why this had to happen to her. but "then as recovery started to take place and I started to heal, it was questions like 'why was I spared and everyone died?'."

Three to four years after the terrible ordeal, Pflug said it seemed like bad things just kept happening to her. She found she couldn't drive because of a perception problem; she was diagnosed with epilepsy; she had a balance problem.

"I felt hopeless and I was very angry at all this that had happened. I call those years my 'dark days'; all I really wanted to do was stay in bed and cry all the time. But she didn't. And that, Pflug said, is what kept her going.

"I got out of my bed, I put my makeup on, I talked to people. Every day, I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, because I knew that if I didn't, I'd get lost in my bed."

One April afternoon, she was lying on her bed, realizing she was tired of being angry and bitter. Pflug made a commitment to God, a commitment to drive again, a commitment to "put a genuine smile on my face again. And once I made the commitment, it was hard to stop me."

Once she started asking for help, Pflug said, "people started to just come into my life when I needed them. Things just started falling into place. Have you ever had that experience, that when you're doing the wrong thing, there are obstacles everywhere?"

Friends, family and faith all played important roles in Pflug's turning her life around. But she had to want it, too. And it took "a never-giving-up attitude and not taking no for an answer. Me getting back on my feet and me smiling again, driving again, hold a career, those are all things that happened because of angels that came into my life; people that helped me get there."

Pflug's advice to people who find themselves fearing the future or finding impossibilities wherever they look is: "Take one thing at a time. Get the help you need along the way, and never give up. And getting the help you need, that means whatever you think it means.

A few weeks after September 11, Pflug found herself watching Dr. Phil McGraw on the Oprah show, talking to a woman so paralyzed by fear that she had a hard time leaving her son in daycare to go to work. Dr. Phil's advice to the woman was "Behave Your Way To Success."

"I thought 'Oh my gosh, that's what I was doing all those years," said Pflug; "Getting outside anyway. Talking to people anyway. Brushing my teeth, putting on makeup, doing my hair anyway. Exercising anyway. Going through life anyway. And, of course, along the way, putting a smile on your face. Just doing it every day, it started to become part of who I was."

Doing it anyway is Pflugs recommendation to anybody who feels hopeless -Efor whatever reason.

"Perhaps you're dealing with the death of a loved one, perhaps you're dealing with divorce. It's not about the story," she said, "it's about how you rise above the story and the lessons you learn along the way."

And one of the most important lessons is to be grateful.

"Even when times were so bleak -Eand they were for years -EI wrote in my Grateful Journal. Every day at the end of the day, I write down five things I'm grateful for. It takes all of 30 seconds to do, and it takes your focus off of what you don't have."

The key, Pflug said, to being joyful is being always grateful.

Jackie Pflug will be speaking at the Rotary Club's Pillars of American Freedom Luncheon at Centennial Hall on Wednesday, May 4.