Amidst the tragedy, heartbreak, sickness and grief that still envelope the memories of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a story occasionally arises that illustrates the best of human nature – courage, heroism, and a sincere desire to do the right thing. Such is the case of Fred Eichler and Johnathan Judd — two men who will forever be joined by a hip.
Mr. Eichler and Mr. Judd met today at (NSUH) to commemorate the solemn 18th anniversary of that terrible day, and to thank chief of adult joint reconstruction at NSUH, for performing an hour-long hip replacement surgery on Mr. Eichler that ultimately saved the lives of both men.
On the morning of 9/11, Mr. Judd was on his way to his office on the 85th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. It was a few minutes before 9 a.m. Having reached the 78th floor sky lobby, he transferred to another elevator that went up to the 93rd floor. However, on this day, the elevator ride was cut short on the 83rd floor; the doors opened – and Mr. Judd came upon three elevator banks erupting in flames.
Thinking of his wife and 6-week-old daughter, Jordana, the shell-shocked Mr. Judd ran into the first office he could find. Fortunately for him, he ran into Mr. Eichler, now 71 and retired, who told him that he had just seen a plane fly into the neighboring South Tower.
“I was shaking so badly I could hardly stand,” said Mr. Judd. “I told Fred I had finally gotten married at 36 and had a newborn at home and now I wasn’t sure whether I’d live.”
The two men called the FDY and were told to stay where they were – a unit was coming to rescue them. Looking through the glass windows of that office, Mr. Eichler noticed the beaming flashlight of firefighters. Following the rescue workers, Mr. Eichler remembers trying to stay focused on one goal: getting out.
“I can still remember telling Jonathan that we were going to survive, that we would be OK,” said Mr. Eichler.
Then, looking at his surgeon, Mr. Eichler said, “I first met Dr. Asnis 33 years ago, in 1986, after I was thrown from a horse. I developed arthritis after suffering that injury, and he’s been treating me ever since. I sincerely believe I wouldn’t be alive today if I had not had that hip replacement surgery in 2000.”
Alongside firefighters, Mr. Eichler helped Mr. Judd walk down from the 83rd floor, step-by-step. It took 45 minutes to make it down to the lobby – with just five minutes to spare before the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 am. The two men were separated in the ensuing chaos. Some weeks later, their bosses ended up on the same phone call, comparing stories of survival; it was then that they were able to link Mr. Eichler as the man who helped Mr. Judd that morning.
Three weeks later, Mr. Judd picked up the phone and called the man he credits with saving his life.
“When he came to the phone, I said, ‘Hi, this is Jonathan Judd,’” Mr. Judd recalled. “Fred said, ‘I don’t know a Jonathan Judd.’ So, I told him, ‘I’m the guy whose life you saved on September 11.’”
For Dr. Asnis, the reunion at North Shore University Hospital served as a testament to the human spirit.
“It’s very rewarding to do this work, and to see patients like Fred move on with their lives. But he is a very unusual person – a wonderful patient who saw a need on that terrible day and worked to help a complete stranger in need.”
Jacqueline Moline, MD, vice president and chair of Occupational Medicine, Epidemiology and Prevention at Northwell who also serves as director of the Northwell Health Queens World Trade Center Health Program, spoke of her ongoing research and intervention on behalf of 9/11 survivors. Her testimony on Capitol Hill this summer was instrumental in securing ongoing benefits through the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
"What I remember from 9/11 was the response from New Yorkers helping each other,” said Dr. Moline. “Stories such as this one show how strangers meet and come together, doing everything possible to help each other in the most difficult of times.”
As they prepared to leave the hospital, both men embraced. Speaking on behalf of his friend, Mr. Eichler said, “Living in NYC as I do, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about what happened on 9/11. I know how lucky I am to be here, and I can’t thank Dr. Asnis enough.”
On the subject of gratitude, Mr. Judd added, “My daughter was just six weeks old on 9/11, and all I could think of was that I wanted to get back home to see her and my wife. That baby just started college last week. I am a very lucky man.”