With the lessons learned from September 11 so widely, recently and painfully told, the story of the suffering and loss that continues for more than 100,000 fellow Americans must not be forgotten. We cannot lose sight of it as if we are seeing it through a rearview mirror, fading into the distance. We need to keep these citizens front and center.
According to Time magazine, the World Trade Center Health Program, founded in 2010 under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act,
currently serves 112,042 members nationwide. Their members include 64,429 general responders, 17,031 firefighters and 30,582 survivors. Of these, 65,307 members have at least one certified debilitating medical condition and are in dire need of care. Some, even with treatment, will never recover.
Of the 15,000 enrolled in the New York Fire Department’s World Trade Center health program, 11,300 have at least one certified physical or mental health condition as a result of their service on and after September 11. These conditions range from upper respiratory tract conditions to many types of cancer, including PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Time reports that “Almost 3,900 of the total group have at least one form of cancer; over 4,300 have a mental health problem.”
If we are to learn anything about the long-term health consequences of the World Trade Center attacks, it is how survivors and responders were confronted with what has been called the “double impact” of not just the exposure to toxins, but also psychological trauma. . According to Dr Adriana Feder, associate director of research in the World Trade Center mental health program at Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, treating mental and physical injuries simultaneously can fuel each other over time. time. “Chronic pain can make PTSD worse, which in turn can lead to inflammation, heart problems and other conditions,” she says. Among those enrolled in the federal WTC program, mental health issues are listed as the third most common category of certified conditions.
In all of the media coverage, which is important and often overlooked, is the plight of the various first responders and others exposed to the site for a long time after the attacks. The length of the rescue and recovery efforts is also lost in most speeches, until the summer of 2002. As Dr. David Prezant of the New York Fire Department, who was on site on September 11, explains. and is now its chief medical officer. at Time, the fires continued to burn until the end of December, releasing more fumes. “During the rescue and recovery efforts … as you dig and uncover crypts, it releases the same gases that were there on the day of September 11th.”
“While some of the 9/11 illnesses developed immediately, others, like mesothelioma (a type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers most of your internal organs), can take years to develop. appear, ”says John. Howard, WTC Health Program Administrator and Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “As our members age, I think we are going to see interactions between the conditions that occur in an aging population and the conditions of September 11th.”
There is also something quite miraculous that emerged from the tragedy of September 11 that should not be overlooked either. Unexpected resilience in the face of illness, disability and impending death.
As Kaiser Health News reporter Michael McAuliff, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez, recently explained, men whose names appear on federal 9/11 legislation that establishes benefits for first responders and who have fought for that Congress adopted it, did it while they were dying of cancer. “They had one more thing in common,” says McAuliff. “Despite everything, they were happy.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world,” Pfeifer, a former New York City firefighter, told McAuliff in 2017. Two months later he would die of cancer related to his job in the ruins from the World Trade Center. “It was something he said often,” McAuliff writes. “I love doing this,” Alvarez, a retired New York Police Detective, told McAuliff just 19 days before he died the day before he testified before Congress.
“Having to find yourself in a toxic scene of chaos and destruction, as New York City fire and police did on September 11, 2001, and getting sick from it, may not seem like a recipe. for some kind of happiness, ”writes McAuliff. But a new report released by the New York City Fire Department reveals that Alvarez and Pfeifer are not uncommon cases. Indeed, since 2006, when doctors and researchers at the World Trade Health Program Center of the department began to track the mental health status of its responders in detail, they discovered a remarkable fact: Even though the self-reported physical health of 9/11 responders has declined over the years, they have consistently reported that their mental health-related quality of life was better than that of average Americans. ”
George Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and author of the book “The End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience Is Changing How We Think About PTSD,” told Kaiser Health News that although he did While not exactly clear why a group of people may experience an improvement in their outlook for life even as they increasingly struggle with health issues, a distinct survivor effect seems to emerge among first responders. “Suffering has a reason, it has a purpose, and your pain is in the context where you have done something remarkable,” he says. It also takes into account the support networks available to first responders, particularly in the fire department, where the care offered covers both physical and mental health problems.
During interviews for his book, Bonanno points out that with those who fled the burning towers, almost everyone interviewed told stories of “firefighters walking up the stairs as they descended, reassuring the evacuees along the way.” .
In the divisive world we live in now, it is important to remember these selfless and humane acts. And as for the care of survivors, they should be abundantly compensated.
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