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Daily News

A husband's plea for tomorrow

By JOSEPH JONES

September 11, 2006—My wife, Felicia, is not counted in the official New York City list of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks - but she needs to be. Felicia was a New Yorker, through and through. She loved this city and served it. And when the terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center, it led directly to her death.

Why, then, is she excluded from the official accounting? Let me back up a moment and tell her story.

Felicia was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of five children, and from early on she had dreams of becoming a lawyer. As of late 2001, Felicia was working as a civil rights attorney for the federal Department of Education. At home, she was a dedicated mother of our children, Joe Jr. and Rebecca - and a great wife to me, for 18 years.

Like for so many New Yorkers, Sept. 11 was an ordinary day for Felicia. By 8:45 that morning, she was having coffee with a co-worker in her office building, which was a block north of the trade center.

They heard an unfamiliar, frightening boom. They saw debris fall and smelled ash coming through the air vents. It had begun.

By now, most New Yorkers and Americans are numbed to the images of men and women covered in dust after the towers fell. Felicia was one of those people. She was running as fast as she could when the cloud wrapped around her.

Eventually, she escaped north and over to Brooklyn and, bit by bit, back to Staten Island. I still remember picking her up at the gas station that night. She was soiled with ash.

In the weeks that followed, Felicia was scarred the way most of us were: invisibly, inside. She had nightmares and flashbacks. With the exception of some coughing, fatigue and nasal congestion, her physical health seemed ordinary.

In January, that started to change. Coughing fits grew worse. Feb. 10, 2002, a Sunday, we were home with the kids - and things really got bad. I got up to make her a cup of tea. By the time I returned, she had stopped breathing.

Nobody expects an otherwise healthy 42-year-old nonsmoker who worked out regularly to die a sudden death. Lord knows, after Felicia's passing, I was too busy taking care of our kids and juggling our family finances to investigate what killed her.

Then, the death certificate came back from the Staten Island medical examiner. There was a word I didn't recognize: sarcoidosis.

In June 2002, my estate attorney looked it up. The National Institutes of Health says it's "inflammation that produces tiny lumps of cells in various organs in your body."

Turns out, Felicia's autopsy found these microscopic lumps all over her liver, her lungs, her kidney and her heart.

How could this have happened to my wife?

Daily News stories of firefighters and other rescue workers contracting sarcoidosis added to our suspicions. As we put the picture together, there was only one explanation that made sense: The cloud of dust that enveloped her on 9/11 killed Felicia.

We approached Kenneth Feinberg, special master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Feinberg looked at the medical evidence and, even though Felicia died five months after the attack, deemed her to be among the day's 2,973 victims. He ruled that her death was a direct result of her exposure to the dust. Thankfully the Staten Island 9/11 memorial, supported by Feinberg's ruling, includes Felicia's name among the dead.

It saddens me that authorities are refusing to offer so many others an honest sense of how their loved ones are getting sick and, in some cases, dying. Clearly, the cloud was toxic. Clearly, it is connected to serious health problems. Clearly, there are hundreds, even thousands, of people in growing need of care.

And there is one other remaining step that we need to take together. When people like my wife pass away from the effects - such as NYPD veterans James Godbee and James Zadroga, Firefighter Stephen Johnson and emergency medical worker Debbie Reeve - we simply must include them among the dead and honor them in the memorial at Ground Zero. Anything else is a distortion of history and an insult to the dead.

Sept. 11, 2001, was the most tragic day most of us will ever remember. And the damage done - to our minds, hearts and lungs - was not constrained to a single page of the calendar. My children and I, who long for my dear wife, are living proof of that.

Jones lives on Staten Island.

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