9/11 first responders diagnosed with cancer again at-risk amid COVID-19 pandemic

Hartford

(WTNH) — 9/11 first responders are once again facing another hurdle after many of them have been diagnosed with cancer. They say their compromised immune systems have made them more at risk for COVID-19.

News 8 spoke with a West Hartford woman who is now retired from the NYPD. She says this pandemic is bringing back the same feelings of uncertainty that she felt on 9/11 and the weeks that followed.

When the world watched the Twin Towers fall, Patricia O’Connor was a detective in lower Manhattan. Much of her time was spent a quarter of a mile away from ground zero.

“I was down there in the area for a couple of days,” she said, “and then I was reassigned to the morgue and so sadly exposed through having to identify body parts for 3 months.”

Like many first responders, years went by and she faced another hurdle: a devastating diagnosis.
In 2017, she had a skin cancer basal cell removed from her nose.

“You never know when it could crop up and I personally have lost many friends to cancer from 9/11,” she explained.

Michael Barasch represents the families of 22 9/11 first responders who have already died as a result of the coronavirus. He says this pandemic is hitting them hard.

“How many of these clients are coming down with COVID and dying from COVID because their compromised immune systems from Chemotherapy and radiation?… It’s like three strikes against the 9/11 community and it’s just heartbreaking. My firm has lost 22 people since March.”

He believes that number could climb.

O’Connor says she is being extra careful and feels fortunate that none of her former coworkers have caught the virus.

“It brings you back,” she said. “It kinda brings you back to everything that happened in 9/11. You’re vulnerable yet again.”

Now she implores anyone who was working around Ground Zero during that time to get screened, especially for skin cancer, and to take advantage of the doctors at the World Trade Center Health Program.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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