Today is the 12th anniversary of one of America's most tragic events. We can look back and reflect on the horror that swept over the country. Some of us were more intimately affected than others on this day, but each of us remembers the effect that Sept. 11 had on America -- even our health.
In the aftermath of 9/11, families were devastated, lives were shattered, and priorities were realigned as we were all reminded of the brevity of life. Those of us who work closely with cancer patients understand this perspective on life all too well. We also know that cancer does not often kill instantaneously. It kills over time, slowly building in the body and taking away precious moments. For many of the 9/11 responders who survived the attacks, this is a reality. Though they made it through the fire and ash of the twin towers, they are facing an equally dangerous foe in the form of cancer.
Thankfully, the federal government has acknowledged the need for further support and financial compensation for the responders. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was finally signed into law by President Obama in January 2011. It allotted $2.775 billion for responders, with $875 million to be paid in the first five years and the rest to be paid in the sixth to avoid draining the fund.
The fund was named in honor of James Zadroga, a New York City Police Department detective who was heavily involved in the recovery and rescue efforts following the 9/11 attacks. "Detective Zadroga spent over 470 hours digging through debris and inhaling the noxious gases and fumes present around the Ground Zero area," according to his biography on the Officer Down Memorial Page. Sadly, he began to experience respiratory issues shortly thereafter. His condition worsened, and he never fully recovered, succumbing to this condition in 2006 at the age of 35. His autopsy revealed black lung disease and mercury on the brain.
Newsday reports that more than 25,000 responders and survivors with illnesses or physical disabilities caused by the attacks have registered with this fund. With the Oct. 3 registration deadline looming, 7,000 survivors and responders have signed up in the last two months alone.
According to Newsday, the illnesses covered include "lung and respiratory diseases, gastro-esophageal reflux disorder, sleep apnea, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, musculoskeletal disorders, injuries, [and] about 60 cancers."
Zadroga's story is not unique among the 9/11 first responders. According to a study by Mount Sinai Hospital's World Trade Center Health program, the evidence points to "the need for continued follow-up and surveillance of WTC responders" regarding cancers associated with exposure to hazardous substances. The study estimated the increase in cancer incidence among responders (over the general population) at 15 percent.
Is this fund enough to help responders who are suffering from the effects of 9/11? Do you know anyone who could directly benefit from knowledge of this fund?