Alum rallies those with health problems from 9/11
September 9, 2011, 3:08 pm · Updated September 11, 2011, 9:32 pm·
Elizabeth Jacobs | DP
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, plumes of dust and debris crept toward Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan.
“Students saw people jumping out of the windows of the World Trade Center and crowds running away from the trade center,” according to Stuyvesant alumnus Amit Friedlander. As the school was being evacuated, the cloud finally reached the 30,000 students and faculty of the school.
“Students began to panic and there was almost a stampede, but suddenly, the cloud of debris disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared in the first place,” he said.
Friedlander, a 2006 Wharton and College graduate, unfortunately would come across the dust and debris of 9/11 once again.
He arrived on campus in 2002 as a healthy, eager student who rarely came down with infection; but as his academic career progressed, things started to change.
“I used to never get sick,” Friedlander said, “but when I was at Penn I was constantly getting sick. People told me I looked like I was strung out on heroin.”
One week after his graduation, Friedlander was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a diagnosis Friedlander thinks could be linked to the carcinogens he was exposed to five years earlier.
“A lot of [9/11] recovery workers were diagnosed with blood cancer and I had a blood cancer,” Friedlander explained.
Since his diagnosis, Friedlander’s cancer has been cured. According to Richard Elkind, an oncologist based in New York’s Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cancer Care, lymphoma — whether it be due to genetics or exposure to toxins — “is curable if it’s caught early” after chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“Hopefully he’ll stay cancer-free, but if it does reoccur there’s other options for him,” Elkind said. He added that though his hospital hasn’t seen much traffic from 9/11 first responders with lymphoma, that can be simply because of its location in the Bronx. “If we were a Manhattan hospital, we probably would’ve seen a lot more of these cases — we’re pretty far from ground zero.”
Friedlander is not alone in correlating health problems with this exposure to toxins on 9/11. On Sept. 6, The Mount Sinai Medical Center published the first long-term study of World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers, showing “substantial and persistent mental and physical health problems among first responders and recovery workers.”
According to the study, those in lower Manhattan on 9/11 were in contact with carcinogens that included benzene from jet fuel, asbestos, lead, glass fibers, hydrochloric acid and several other caustic chemicals.
Of the 27,000 subjects evaluated, 28 percent had asthma, 42 percent had abnormal lung function tests, another 42 percent had sinusitis and 39 percent had acid reflux disease.
Perelman School of Medicine professor Reynold Panettieri said that 9/11 was associated with an “incredible increase in the incidents and severity of asthma in and around lower Manhattan.”
Mayock added, “There is clear evidence that the huge plume of dust and such probably contributed to enhance lung disease, specifically as asthma-related symptoms.”
Friedlander’s bravery in coming forward with his cancer has inspired many others to do the same, and to rally together.
“A bunch of my former classmates contacted me when my story came out to tell me about the conditions they had,” Friedlander said, and have since come together to form StuyHealth. This organization of former Stuyvesant High School students is working to receive health benefits for their conditions and climbing medical bills.
“I think the best way I can contribute is by sharing my story,” Friedlander said. “Hopefully, that will help the cause and anyone else who might get sick … to be more vigilant and ask for what they deserve.”