Terror and Trauma: COVID-19 presents health problems for 9/11 first responders, volunteers

(WSVN) - As we commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many of the first responders and volunteers who worked at Ground Zero now find themselves facing another threat. 7’s Kevin Ozebek has more on how COVID-19 is presenting new problems for them.

Sept. 11, 2001 started as a bright, beautiful day in New York City.

Douglas Bush, Ground Zero volunteer: “I remember driving to work that morning noticing how clear the skies were.”

But at 8:46 a.m., our world changed forever.

Before the day was over, almost 3,000 people would die in the worst terror attack in our nation’s history.

Douglas Bush: “I thought to myself, ‘This can’t be happening.'”

Douglas Bush could see the Twin Towers burning from his office.

He joined other volunteers in removing debris, and for 21 days, he served meals to Ground Zero workers.

Douglas Bush: “You could smell what smelled like death in the air. This can’t be healthy, for anyone to be working down here.”

He was right. Seven years later, Douglas developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and then melanoma.

Annie O., Ground Zero volunteer: “While we were down there, we were all coughing. We called it ‘Trade Center cough.'”

Annie O. was also at Ground Zero. She worked for the Red Cross and the Salvation Army for 10 months.

Annie O.: “About three years ago, I got sick and just did not get better, and they kept saying, ‘It’s pneumonia.'”

Now Annie has scarring on her lungs and a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can develop into cancer.

Douglas Bush: “I could not think of any reason other than being there during that time after 9/11 that this would have happened.”

With already compromised immune systems, they and other 9/11 survivors now face a great threat from COVID-19.

Michael Barasch, attorney: “I’ve lost nearly 100 of my clients as a result of COVID.”

Michael Barasch is an attorney whose firm represents some 20,000 9/11 survivors, first responders and volunteers.

All, like Annie and Douglas, are recipients of a victim compensation fund for 9/11 survivors.

Michael Barasch: “They’ve linked 68 cancers to the World Trade Center toxins, and if you’ve been through chemotherapy or radiation, your immune system is shot, and that makes you particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Fifteen hundred of his clients left New York and moved here to South Florida.

Annie now volunteers with a food distribution program in Miami but keeps in mind her weakened immune system.

Annie O.: “I don’t leave the house if I’m not well, and I take my temperature. I wash my hands, and I try to keep positive.”

Douglas is even more careful. He survived two different cancers. Now, he only leaves his condo complex once a week for fresh air.

Douglas Bush: “Given the conditions and circumstances, I don’t know when my immune system could be further compromised, making it easier for me and susceptible to actually picking up a disease that I don’t need and no one else needs.”

Douglas and Annie say they’ll never forget that terrible day when so many lost their lives.

Douglas Bush: “If I had it to do over again, I would do absolutely nothing different than what I chose to do.”

Annie O.: “It’s so good for the soul, being the solution.”

If you were in the New York Ground Zero area and exposed to toxins, there is a one-time-only extension to sign up for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.


September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

Barasch & McGarry

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