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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    First Responders Receive Help from the LI WTC Medical Monitoring Treatment Program

    The wreaths of flowers for the lost have been placed and the commemoration ceremonies of one of the worst disasters in United States history are complete.

    The names of victims re-read in somber honor and their widows and orphans comforted again for their sacrifice. Yet in this, another episode in an ongoing real-life sitcom, which for many has little or no closure, now where does our attention turn?

    Three people at Stony Brook University Medical Center (SBUMC) have an answer. Three dedicated individuals started with a humanitarian effort. Dr. Benjamin Luft, alumni and doctor at SBUMC, Dr. David Parkinson, now retired from SBUMC and Melody Guerrera, then an administrator in occupational health and safety.

    ‘It quickly became apparent to all of us that the responders were putting themselves at great risk,’ Luft said. ‘The dust and debris was going to have long term affects on their health. So we set up this program and opened our doors to them.’ As they began to see the first round of patients in the days following the attacks they cared for the responders, the construction people, the iron workers and the volunteers and found an all too common thread with the victims — many of them were fellow Long Islanders.

    ‘We came to realize that 25 to 30 percent of the first responders involved were Long Islanders. Not just the FDNY and NYPD, but people in the building trades who volunteered to help, ironworkers, DOT personnel, even bus drivers went in to Ground Zero to help and they were suffering the effects also.’ Luft said. Whether that was when the idea hit, no one is sure, but it surfaced, and became their mission and never left their minds.

    The first responders’ situation was not a quick fix. The responders were going to need long term physical, emotional and social care, and that is what this trinity of professionals is accomplishing. ‘We were very fortunate at the beginning to have Sen. Hillary Clinton immediately take up our cause,’ Melody Guerra, the administrator for the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program said. ‘Senator Clinton was instrumental in getting the first funding for us.’

    Luft agreed, ‘Senator Clinton had the foresight to realize how immediate the need was, she has championed our cause all along.’ With Clinton’s help, The Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program took its first breath. ‘We have an incredible amount of dedicated individuals,’ Luft continued, ‘Everyone from the doctors to the file clerks do their job with pride and always with the patient in mind. We have created a comprehensive medical monitoring and treatment program.’

    Breathing difficulties and aggravation of asthma symptoms are common but there are many other medical issues that have arisen in first responders over the past seven years. They see a host of upper respiratory and pulmonary problems, sinusitis is common along with gastrointestinal issues, but that skims the surface of what these people are suffering from according to Luft. ‘There are a lot of secondary effects to consider and monitor. We watch these patients for cancers and other long terms ailments. Additionally, we want to understand the long-term affects so we are prepared for the next disaster. It is imperative to find out why some have severe reactions, and others are managing much better.’

    Health conditions did not just include physical injury. ‘It’s not only about the medical conditions that arise, these individuals were under tremendous pressure and stress to finish the clean-up job and restore downtown to normal,’ said Luft. ‘They were working in a psychologically charged environment. Sure some of them were FDNY and NYPD and might have been prepared to see the worst, but the rest were not accustomed to seeing such human carnage and it has had a traumatic effect,’ he said.

    ‘At the same time social disruptions began. They were unable to meet their social obligations with families and friends,’ Luft said. ‘Therefore, we had to develop a comprehensive program that attended to all these needs, including first convincing a lot of these patients to ask for help. These were the community leaders, the soccer coaches and the boy-scout leaders. Strong, proud people who were not used to accepting charity, we had to convince them it was okay and then help them successfully navigate the social service system,’ he said.

    ‘The more difficult part was finding the right people,’ Guerrara said. ‘At that time there were few professionals who knew how to handle this. Sure I knew doctors who had experience in occupational safety and health, but a disaster of this kind was not something many had handled.’ Guerrara hopes funding will become continuous. ‘We have been fortunate all during these past seven years, while we work with the 3,500 to 4,000 patients, we have people writing the grant applications and doing all the legwork to get us the money we need to continue,’ Guerrara said. ‘Hopefully, when this bill is passed, we won’t have to worry about the funding anymore.’

    A new bill would give consistent funding to the program that currently relies on grants. ‘With this new bill that Congressman Bishop is supporting, this will give us the consistent funding we need to keep assisting these individuals who gave so much to others,’ Luft said. ‘Now that only thing we need is the legislation to get passed and signed into law.’

    It seems that the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program is close to taking the next step. The long-term research on the effects of this disaster on the first responders could become a federal model for long-term care for disaster responders in the future.

    ‘Our goal was to develop a unique program that is a integrative model, now we want to perfect it. It may play an important role down the line in other disasters and the aftermath suffers.’ Luft said. In times like these, when many believe that one person can’t make a difference, here’s a perfect example of three people making huge strides and now setting a countrywide example. ‘We aren’t the story, the responders are,’ Luft said. ‘We are humbled by these patients they are remarkable in the fact they did this because it was the right thing to do, and now we have to do the same.’

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