NEW HYDE PARK, NY – In a crowded room filled with Northwell Health staff and first responders, the message was delivered with respect and humility –
the tragic events of September 11, 2001 will never be forgotten and there is still much work to be done.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference dedicated to the heroic efforts of first responders, along with the health system’s continued commitment to treat them, a panel consisting of two doctors, an EMS worker, former MTA bus driver and two retired New York police officers shared their memories of the day and recounted the physical and mental challenges that they continue to fight.
Scott Strauss, corporate director of security at Northwell, was working as a member of the New York Police Department’s Emergency Services Unit on 9/11. The story of his heroic descent into the rubble to help rescue two police officers trapped in the burning rubble was graphically retold in Oliver Stone’s film, “World Trade Center.”
After describing the rescue on 9/11, Mr. Strauss noted, “The fact is that 9/11 is not over. Time may pass, people may move on, but first responders will bear witness to the fact that, for a variety of reasons both physical and emotional, 9/11 is not over.”
Jacqueline Moline, MD, was part of the core team of physicians who developed the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program, which evolved into the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. She spent years advocating for continued federal funding, including testifying before Congress, so that the program continued past the initial two and then for another five years. Thanks to her efforts and other like-minded individuals, the Zadroga Act was enacted in 2011 and the name of the program changed to the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program.
“We continue to monitor the health of WTC patients for new conditions and work on early detection of cancer and other disease, while continuing to treat the respiratory and mental health effects,” said Dr. Moline, who now serves as chair of occupational medicine, epidemiology and prevention at Northwell Health, and director of the health system’s WTC Health Center in Rego Park, Queens . “People are still ill at this time. It remains fresh in their minds to this day, and future health conditions can still occur even now and in the future.”
On 9/11, Michael Guttenberg, MD, was simply out getting breakfast when he heard about the attack and rushed downtown to serve as best as he could. He had just completed his residency training in emergency medicine and was newly employed as an EMS Fellow with the Fire Department of New York in conjunction with the Long Island Jewish Medical Center Emergency Department.
Dr. Guttenberg, who is now medical director for Northwell’s Center for Emergency Medical Services (EMS), spoke of working 16 hour days on the pile. During that time, he helped coordinate the rescue/recovery efforts and medical care at the World Trade Center site. Like so many other first responders, his time working on the pile had serious effects on his physical well-being.
“A little over three years ago, at the age of 46 as a non-smoker and with no other identifiable risk factor other than 9/11, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Guttenberg. “While it’s 15 years later and it isn’t over, the most important tribute we can offer is to move forward on every level as a society, as a country, and scientifically to identify and treat patients –and to also never forget the past,” he said.
Bernard Robinson, who serves as an operations manager with the health system’s Center for EMS, was asleep on the morning of 9/11 after coming home from an overnight shift as an emergency medical technician in Manhattan. He said he was struck by the compassion that people showed immediately after the attacks. “I was at work for three straight days. But what I remember most from that day is the compassion that people showed,” Mr. Robinson said. “All the people of New York City who approached us in the street and at the hospitals, some with tears in their eyes, asking what they could do to help, giving us sandwiches and water.I don’t remember a time when we were more united as a people and a city.”
Speaking about the important role that Northwell’s WTC Health Center continues to play was retired NYC Transit bus driver Nick Rotondo. On the morning of 9/11, Mr. Rotondo was driving his city bus up Amsterdam Avenue when a police officer jumped in front of his bus and ordered all passengers to disembark immediately. The police officer (who has since become one of Mr. Rontondo’s best friends) asked him to help with the transport of personnel and equipment down to Ground Zero.
“Little did I know, I was now a first responder,” said Mr. Rotondo. Realizing that something was “wrong,” Mr. Rontondo decided to take advantage of the WTC program and registered as a first responder in May 2011. “I want to thank the 911 clinic for continuing to provide treatment and monitoring my health,” he said. “I find this program so important for first responders. It shows that somebody cares!”
Daniel Rodriguez, who became known as “The Singing Policeman” and “the voice that healed a nation, ”and is now a member of the New York Tenors, was a police officer in 2001. On the morning of 9/11, he was driving over the Verrazano Bridge to begin his shift with the NYPD when the first plane hit the North Tower.“I saw ashes falling from the sky,” said Mr. Rodriguez. “I remember wondering, `what are ashes doing over the Hudson River?’”
After describing his experience on the ground near the buildings while they collapsed, Mr. Rodriguez spoke about the physical and mental aftermath of his experience along with his gratitude to the health system’s WTC clinicians who helped guide him back to health.
“I believe this wonderful program saved my life,” he said. “Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I felt that something was wrong, but I never had an official diagnosis.I want to thank all the wonderful doctors at Northwell Health and the WTC program for helping to save my life.”
Summing up the feelings expressed by each member of the panel, Mr. Rodriguez said, “Even 15 years later, the events of 9/11 remain with me. Thanks to the help of caring medical professionals, we will continue to move forward...we are grateful and blessed.”
About Northwell Health
Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System) is New York State’s largest health care provider and private employer. With 21 hospitals and nearly 450 outpatient practices, we serve more than 1.8 million people annually in the metro New York area and beyond. Our 61,000 employees work to change health care for the better. We’re making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institute. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine and the School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. And we offer health insurance through CareConnect. For information on our services in more than 100 medical specialties, visit Northwell.edu.