Health and Safety

Health and Hardship: Caring for 9/11’s Heroes

September 15, 2015
By Liam Lynch, WTC Health Program Coordinator at NYCOSH

New York, NY – Nearly a decade and a half after 9/11, responders and survivors are continuing to struggle with poor health related to their exposure on and after the disaster. On this year’s 9/11 anniversary, at a time when lawmakers are working tirelessly to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, NYCOSH teamed up with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to highlight the experiences of 9/11 responders and the complex and evolving nature of their illnesses.

The newly released report entitledHealth and Hardship: Stories From 9/11’s Unsung Heroes is a compilation of stories from eight courageous responders who recall their involvement in the rescue, recovery, and cleanup work and their subsequent struggle in the years afterward battling 9/11-related illnesses. Their stories of responders, who were there for our city when we needed them the most, distill the aftermath of 9/11 in an account that captures the emotional and physical repercussions on a daily basis.

As a LIUNA Local 731 member and Flagger at the 9/11 site, Haydee Diaz, stated in the report, “My lungs have incrementally gotten worse and worse […] I lost the sense of smell a long time ago.”

The responders bravely express how their chronic and sometimes debilitating illnesses have led to early retirement, impaired mobility, and depression; and have taken a large toll on relationships with family and friends among other ramifications.

The report also provided medical provider commentary on numerous 9/11-related illnesses by medical providers at Mount Sinai, one of the Clinical Centers of Excellence within the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP). The commentary highlighted the need for continued medical monitoring as patient’s symptoms become more complex and additional research is required.

“There’s a lurking concern among many of us that we don’t yet have the whole story about lung disease in this population. We worry about the length of time that we need to follow patients to truly assess the impact of their 9/11 exposures”, stated Dr. Michael Crane, Medical Director of the WTCHP at Mount Sinai.  

The responders featured in the report are part of the NIOSH-administered WTC Health Program, which provides no-cost physical and mental health services to 9/11 responders and survivors. While 72,000 people are in the program and continue to benefit from its services, an estimated 400,000 were exposed to the WTC-derived contaminants following the disaster.  Health and Hardship highlights the need for continued medical care and monitoring for those currently in the program but also the importance of doing outreach to hard-to-reach responders, residents, and volunteers to ensure that those who were impacted are getting the care that they need.

As we continue to do outreach for the 9/11 Health Program, we regularly find individuals who were impacted but have not yet enrolled. Many are still unaware that the program covers not only responders but survivors—area workers, resident and students—and that the conditions they are enduring such as asthma, sleep apnea, cancer, or anxiety disorder (which are just a few conditions among an extensive list of conditions linked to the disaster) are related to 9/11. Our efforts to do outreach on this program reaffirms every day the importance of health care for this community and the absolute need for care to be extended indefinitely as responders/survivors continue to suffer. New Yorkers came together after 9/11 to rebuild our City; and we need to continue to work together to ensure that our nation’s heroes continue to have the healthcare and compensation they need and deserve today, tomorrow, and throughout their lives.

September 15, 2015

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