By MARCO POGGIO
Four courageous responders who worked around Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks and were diagnosed with cancer years later came together Tuesday at a hospital in Queens to describe the treatment they received under a federal-funded program, hoping it will be continued past the initial deadline set for 2016.
“When you hear that ‘c’ word it’s a life-changing experience,” said John Licato at a press conference hosted by Long Island Jewish Medical Center “You look at it and say: oh my God, I’m 50 years old and I’m gonna die.”
Licato, 52, of Howard Beach,Queens was a New York City police officer on the day of the attacks. In the months that followed, he kept working at Ground Zero. Eleven years later, he was diagnosed with neck cancer.
“It’s devastating when you get that information,” said Joe Ramondino, referring to the moment he was given notice he had a lymphoma.
Despite the burden of their cancer, the four first responders do not regret having put their lives at risk on the site of the attack
“I’d do it again. All of us would do it again,” said Ramondino, 52, a life-long resident of Maspeth, Queens who spent about two months in exposure to contamination while working at Ground Zero.
All four patients expressed their gratitude for the treatment they have been given and praised the center’s staff for their effort and support.
The World Trade Center Health Program became operational in July 2011 when President Barack Obama signed the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law, authorizing the spending of $ 4.2 billion for the medical treatment of Ground Zero responders and volunteers.
Since then, the program has treated over 2,500 cases of cancer, as well as a wide array of other physical and psychological problems that emerged in people who were exposed to the debris.
Jacqueline Moline, Vice President and Chairwoman of the Population Health division at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, looks ahead to when the funding for the program will come to an end.
“We have to make sure these programs continue going forward. Cancers take many years to develop,” Moline said. A possible truncation of the program, she said, “would be preventing thousands of folks from getting treatment they should be getting.”
In order for a potential patient to access treatment at World Trade Health Center, the provider has to verify the exposure and produce documentation that a cancer has developed.
Under recent provisions, the program has added new types of cancer to the list of the ones that have already been treated, to adjust to new patterns of illnesses revealed among the multitude of workers, responders and volunteers who worked at the site..
“We’ve seen elevated grades of certain cancers we didn’t expect,” Moline said.
“We’re lucky to be alive,” said Patricia Workman, 76, a red cross volunteer who was diagnosed in 2008 with multiple myeloma, a cancer affecting bone marrow.
On Wednesday,Workman will testify before a congressional committee on 9/11-related illnesses to urge the government to keep financing the program.
“All we have to do is to get the treatment,” she said. “I hope this program continues.”