Editor's note: Animal Planet's documentary "Hero Dogs of 9/11" profiles three survivors of the 9/11 attacks who in some way owe their lives to canine first responders. The one-hour special airs Tuesday, September 10, at 8 pm ET.
Trapped between ruined masses of concrete, a dead body beneath her, smoke and chaos all around, Genelle Guzman-McMillan began to pray. She wasn't particularly religious, but that changed on September 11, 2001.
Everything changed that day.
'Something miraculous happened'
Guzman-McMillan was on the 64th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower when a plane struck the building above her, setting in motion a deadly race against time to escape the crumbling building.
She and several co-workers made it a few floors down Stairwell B before the world caved in. Guzman-McMillan said she remembers falling as the floors below her gave way. Then there was darkness, heat. A soft spot beneath her turned out to be the body of a deceased firefighter.
She was alone.
Guzman-McMillan recounted to HLN the minutes and hours after the fall. "Reliving it now, I talked to myself," she said. "I knew I was going to die because there was no way I was going to make it, completely trapped. Hours are going by and I keep preparing myself to die.
"In that time, not knowing what to do or what to say, being a semi-religious person because of my parents, I started to pray and ask God to save me," she said. "I wanted so much to live, I just continued to pray. In my heart. I was not screaming out at the top of my voice, it was a silent prayer in my heart.
"Within hours, something miraculous happened," she said. "Someone called out to me, and they heard me, and they held my hand. And I was just completely relaxed then, and they said, 'Genelle, you are going to be fine.'"
Guzman-McMillan was the last survivor pulled from the rubble of the Twin Towers.
Catching the scent of life
In the chaotic aftermath of 9/11, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in which two planes hit and destroyed New York's iconic Twin Towers, more than 300 dogs were used in the city's rescue and recovery operation. One of these dogs was the one that led rescuers to Guzman-McMillan's side.
"Several months [after September 11], they told me that a dog had actually seen a firefighter jacket in the rubble," Guzman-McMillan said. "The dog was trained to find scent, that's how I was found."
Guzman-McMillan eventually got to meet her rescuers, but she never met the dog who had saved her life.
"It's pretty amazing to know that dogs can be trained in that way to help people, in general," she said. "I didn't know dogs could be that smart. It means a lot to me, and I thank God for that, for giving animals the ability to do that."
'It's never up to us'
After she was found, Guzman-McMillan was pulled out into the daylight. Her eyesight was blurry, but she could hear cheering and clapping as rescuers carried her down the mountain of wreckage. Her right leg was crushed, and she had several abrasions on her face and arms. After several surgeries, she says she is lucky she didn't lose her leg.
Guzman-McMillan quickly became a celebrity of sorts. Well, more like a touchstone. A living piece of history. But she says she doesn't normally talk about her extraordinary experience unless she's asked.
What's more important than her words, she says, is how she lives life now.
"I found faith beneath that rubble," she said. "I have given my life to God. We can plan our destination, where we want to go, what we want to do, but it is in God's hands.
"Things can happen. In the blink of an eye, things can happen, and it's never up to us."
In that blink of an eye 12 years ago, Guzman-McMillan became a survivor, a believer, a person reborn. She says the way she sees fit to honor that day is to live like a person worthy of a second chance.
"In times of tragedy, we can really pull through and be a better person, and try to live our life accordingly," she said. "Not everyone is so fortunate to get a second chance, but I did."