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9/11 heroes battle cancer with hope

THE COURIER/Photo by Asha Mahadevan

BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

Thirteen years ago, when tragedy struck the World Trade Center, they were one of the first to respond to calls for help. Today, they are suffering the after-effects of their selflessness.

Two days before the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, four Queens residents, who developed cancer because of their exposure to carcinogenic substances at the WTC site, came forward to share their pain at the North Shore – LIJ’s WTC Clinical Center of Excellence at Rego Park on Tuesday, Sept. 9.

John Licato, 52, a resident of Howard Beach and a former cop with the 110th Precinct in Corona, was diagnosed with neck cancer in 2012. Since then he has undergone chemotherapy and radiation and now, his cancer is in remission. Christian Foggy, 67, an electrician from Jamaica who transported generators to the site for almost two months, was treated for prostate cancer.

Former narcotics cop Joe Ramondino, 52, developed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “They said it was safe,” said the Maspeth resident about concerns that arose in the aftermath. Last August, he was told he is dealing with a type of cancer he calls “treatable but not curable.”

“It is devastating learning what is in your body,” he said. “I am just staying positive and following a healthy lifestyle.”

Added his wife Toni, “It was frightening. We are sticking together and getting through.”
The program at the WTC Clinical Center is federally funded by the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which is meant for treating the people who fell sick due to exposure to harmful materials at ground zero. The funding runs through 2016. Initially, the people being treated were those with respiratory disorders such as asthma and sinus cases, and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. However, cancer takes many years to develop, said Dr. Jacqueline Moline, vice president and chair of Population Health at North Shore-LIJ. “We have more than 2,500 certified cases,” she said. “Truncating the program after 15 years is not right.”

Patricia Workman, 76, and her sister Julia Mooney, both from Flushing, helped at the site as Red Cross volunteers. “I worked in the pit, in the morgue, served meals, distributed supplies, whatever needed to be done,” said Workman. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2008. She was treated and went into remission but suffered a relapse earlier this year. Despite her trauma, she says she doesn’t regret helping out the way she did. “It was a terrible day,” she said. “We should not forget it because if you do, it can happen again.”

Mooney, who suffered from PTSD due to her time at the site, added, “These people [who died that day] deserve to be remembered always.”

Despite their pain, the patients and their families are staying positive. As Ramondino put it, “Things could have been worse. Lots of people died that day. We are still here.”

“I have three children and three grandchildren,” said Workman. “I have a lot to live for.”

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