New York Daily News

August 21, 2011


 

9/11 ten years later: For many, the battle still continues

BY Rocco Parascandola
DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU CHIEF

The official tally is that 23 NYPD officers lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terror attacks — but 45 cops have died of cancer since then, and hundreds more are battling the disease.

Because doctors have not linked their cases to their time spent at Ground Zero, they are not eligible for federal compensation under the Zadroga Law.

"We know with absolute certainty that our members were exposed to unprecedented levels of cancer-causing materials when they responded to the call without concern for their own well-being," said Pat Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

"Logic and common sense dictates that cancer should be included under the Zadroga Law. These men and women are sick and dying today. They cannot wait for science to catch up with common sense."

These are the stories of four of them.

   Retired Officer David Howley was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer and suffered two strokes after working at Ground Zero on 9/11. Mark Bonifacio/News
 
Mark Bonifacio/News
Retired Officer David Howley was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer and suffered two strokes after working at Ground Zero on 9/11.

DAVID HOWLEY

Retired cop David Howley can't laugh without coughing, and he carries a water bottle everywhere he goes because radiation treatments destroyed his salivary glands.

He was enjoying a bacon-and-eggs breakfast with a friend when terrorists struck the World Trade Center. He rushed to Police Headquarters, where he worked in the Operations Unit, and helped coordinate the response to Ground Zero.

Howley, 51, blew out his sinuses the first day and soon had breathing problems. In 2007, he was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer and later suffered two strokes.

Now he's cancer-free, and strong enough to advocate for cancer-stricken Ground Zero responders cut out of the Zadroga
9/11 Health and Compensation fund.

"It's disturbing that 10 years later we're still going around in circles about this," said Howley, who lives in Edison, N.J., with his wife and daughter.

"Whatever monies I may get, it's not going to change our lives, but for others it's going to make a big difference and I'll do whatever I can to help make that happen."

Although he's in remission, Howley said his long-term prognosis is unclear.

"My doctor and I seldom have that conversation," he said. "At this point I can't have any more radiation. There's only so much you can do to your body."

   Widow Louise Nicosia talks about her late husband Officer Robert Nicosia, "I think he had no idea this could make him sick," she said. Mark Bonifacio/News
 
Mark Bonifacio/News
Widow Louise Nicosia talks about her late husband Officer Robert Nicosia, "I think he had no idea this could make him sick," she said.

ROBERT NICOSIA

Officer Robert Nicosia arrived at his Wantagh, L.I., home in the wee hours of Sept. 12, covered in ash.

"I think he had no idea this could make him sick," said his widow, Louise, 65, a retired nurse. "He just wanted to get the guys out."

A year later, Nicosia, who was assigned to the technical assistance and response unit, retired from the force. Soon after, a tumor was found on his pancreas, and the cancer spread to his liver.

Thick and broad-shouldered, Nicosia put up a fight, riding a bike to a part-time job at a gun shop and continuing to volunteer with the Wantagh Fire Department.

The cancer eventually destroyed his body, though. In his last days, he was thin, frail and unable to walk without assistance.

Nicosia died in 2008. His son, Joseph, a three-year veteran of the NYPD, wears his dad's shield number.

His widow says the refusal to link cancer and Ground Zero is a slap at her husband's efforts.

"I just don't want them to say all these guys got cancer and it has nothing to do with the World Trade Center," she says.

   Officer Scott Rabiner works in the 122nd Precinct. Mark Bonifacio/News
 
Mark Bonifacio/News
Above: Officer Scott Rabiner works in the 122nd Precinct. 

SCOTT RABINER

When Officer Scott Rabiner's back started hurting in 2004, he assumed kidney stones he'd battled three years earlier were back — and headed right to the doctor.

"It's not kidney stones," he was told. "It's cancer."

Rabiner, a cop since 1993, was on patrol in the 122nd Precinct on Sept. 11. He rushed to Ground Zero and stayed for weeks.

His service is documented in "The Thousand-Mile Stare: Images from Ground Zero," a photo book that shows him, leg bandaged and arm in a sling, after he ran from the Liberty One building amid fears it was about to collapse.

Little thought was given to the carcinogens floating in the air at the time. Today, he has no doubt those toxins caused a rare form of testicular cancer that struck his lymph nodes, liver, aorta and kidney.

"They gave me a 40% chance to live," he said.

Intense chemotherapy five days a week and a strong will helped Rabiner pull through and return to work.

"I was lucky," he said. "They caught it early, and for some reason, God didn't want me."

Rabiner was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2009 and twice had additional tumors removed.

Now 44, he's still out on patrol but must get tested every three months.

"It's hard," he admits. "Just the stress the week I'm going for the test and not knowing what the test is going to show."

   Retired officer Paul Geramsimczyk with some of his medications. Mark Bonifacio/News
 
Mark Bonifacio/News
Above: Retired officer Paul Geramsimczyk with some of his medications

PAUL GERASIMCZYK

Retired officer Paul Gerasimczyk spent 382 hours at Ground Zero and was diagnosed with kidney cancer six years later. He's cancer-free now, and is trying to get other 9/11 cops to be proactive about their health.

"There are a lot of sick people out there that aren't getting help," Gerasimczyk said. "A lot of cops don't want to know what's wrong. They feel that if they get sick they want to die right away."

Gerasimczyk said it would help if cops knew they wouldn't have to battle their insurance companies to cover certain procedures and medications.

"Soldiers risk their lives to go into battle," the 52-year-old said. "If they get injured they expect they're going to get care. The police officers and the firefighters who went down there that day expected the same thing."

Gerasimczyk lost a third of his kidney to cancer and suffers from asthma, acid reflux and damaged sinuses. He tires easily when climbing stairs or lifting packages.

He retired from the force in 2005, but hasn't stopped working. He does security at Aqueduct — a job made necessary by the possibility his medical bills might one day outpace his benefits.