NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Northwell patients who worked on the pile at ground zero following the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center gathered to mourn and remember together Friday, ahead of the 20-year anniversary of September 11.
Now battling a variety of cancers and blood diseases, the patients of Northwell's Queens World Trade Center Health program joined Dr. Jacqueline Moline -- whose ongoing work was instrumental in securing federally-funded medical programs for survivors -- to share their memories of the day, their subsequent illnesses, and their hopes for the future.
The health care center replaced St. Vincent's Hospital, which on 9/11 prepare and waited for patients who never arrived.
The panelists included an actress, a priest, a firefighter's widow, a steel welder, an office worker, an intelligence officer, meeting for the first time to share their stories of survival on 9/11.
"When the plane hit, it knocked us down," survivor Fred Eichler said. "The building shook violently and fire erupted."
Eichler worked in the Twin Towers and helped a stranger escape down the stairs. Since then, they have formed a lasting friendship.
"To this day, our families are very close," he said. "Every 9/11, we all meet, spend the day together."
Scott Bartels was a welder who worked on the pile.
"The firemen needed people that could use the torch, torch operations," he said. "So they started marking out where the bodies were, and we started cutting them out."
Each person had a very personal reason for working the pile for weeks following the event, and most are now living with catastrophic illness.
Christina Huie was an actress who volunteered, but she was unprepared for the horror.
"I lost my mind down at the pit," said Huie, who developed a rare form of blood cancer seven years ago. "I went through four years of chemotherapy for a disease that has no cure that could come back any time, and I never received a bill."
The survivors have emotional and physical scars they are still healing from, with the help of the program, and what unites them now is their shared memory of the day and their hopes for a peaceful future.
Following the presentation of the Colors by the Northwell Honor Guard, the program will be led by Dr. Moline, who serves as director of the Queens World Trade Center Health Program in Rego Park.
The hospital's proximity to the World Trade Center put it on the front lines of immediate help, and for days and weeks, people came to St. Vincent's to donate blood hoping more survivors would be rescued.
"We set up a program in three months," Dr. Modine said. "And in two years, we saw 12,000 people."
Dr. Moline's research for the past 20 years has focused on the medical evaluation and treatment of World Trade Center responders.
She began treating patients whose health was affected by their work at Ground Zero in October 2001 and has spoken repeatedly before Congress about the need for ongoing medical treatment for these patient.
More on the panelists:
--Fred Eichler, 73, NYC, credits a hip replacement surgery performed in 2000 for his ability to walk down 83 flights of steps, rescuing the stranger who is now his best friend.
--Denise Lynch, New Hyde Park, widow of Michael F. Lynch, FDNY Ladder #4. She has been treated for cancer as a result of her decision to assist on the pile.
--Scott Bartells, 53, Rockaway Beach, steel welder, volunteered to work the pile for several weeks because of his knowledge of working with steel. He is now living with a form of blood cancer while also being treated for PTSD.
--Christina Huie, 53, Brooklyn, actress who heard the news and rushed down to the pile to help. A volunteer who spent just two weeks on clean-up crews, Huie, who is also a COVID survivor, has been treated since 2014 for a very rare form of blood cancer.
--Robert Jordan, 52, Seaford, LI, served in the Intelligence Division of the NYPD. He spent several weeks at Ground Zero working to confiscate recording devices for investigative purposes. He also did security for then-President George Bush during his official visit. In 2017, Jordan was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer.
--Father Paul Wierichs, 77, who served as an FBI chaplain on 9/11, said that he heard more confession from first responders during his three weeks on the pile than he'd heard in the years leading up to the event. As a result, Father Paul has been treated for squamous cell carcinoma that has spread to his throat, as well as prostate cancer and facial paralysis. His message is that God was, in fact, present at Ground Zero in the form of every first responder and volunteer.
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