Families of FDNY, NYPD members who died of 9/11 illnesses reflect on loved ones #Families #FDNY #NYPD #members #died #illnesses #reflect #loved Welcome to Viasildes, here is the new story we have for you today:
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While New York City’s fire and police departments lost nearly 400 members during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the city’s World Trade Center, many first responders have died of illnesses related to the attacks in the 21 years since, continuing the tragedy of the attacks for the family members they left behind.
“He loved, loved being a firefighter. Everything about it he loved,” Denise Verzi told Viasildes News Digital of her husband Michael Verzi, a retired FDNY firefighter who died of cancer related to his work at Ground Zero in May.
Denise Verzi recalled that her husband was at home for their twin daughters’ birthdays when two airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers on September 11. The couple believed that the crash was an accident until a second plane crashed into the towers.
Michael Verzi got the call to head down to the towers while picking up his daughters from school, something his wife attempted to convince him not to do.
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Michael and Denise Verzi.
“I told him not to go, he said he had to go,” Denise Verzi recalled. “I had a sister that worked at stock exchange then. She was one of the ones running from the debris cloud. She was screaming at him don’t go down there. Everyone was saying don’t go down there, but it was his job, his life.”
Michael Verzi responded to the scene that day and worked at Ground Zero during the aftermath, seeing firefighters die as the towers fell and attending funerals for other colleagues in the years after. He was aware of the health risks he was facing from his work at Ground Zero, something that became a reality in May 2021.
Doctors discovered cancer in the retired firefighter’s lungs, and he underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, with the cancer entering remission in November 2021. However, he became sick again in March 2022, tragically passing from the disease on May 28.
“He fought as hard as he could, and I kept saying, ‘it’s okay I have the girls,’” Denise Verzi recalled. “At 3 a.m. the fire alarms in the hospital went off. As soon as that happened his heart rate dropped, and he was gone.”
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Verzi said her husband was not given the opportunity to meet his granddaughter who was born after his death, but the family will make sure to tell her what kind of man her grandfather was. However, the pain of his death will always loom in the background, especially when she looks at the New York City skyline.
“Now whenever I see the skyline, I look at it and think, ‘You took my husband from me,'” Verzi said. “They said it was safe to go there, clearly it wasn’t.”
The family of John J. McCauley, a FDNY supervising fire marshal who also died in May, know the Verzis’ pain all too well.
“He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2020, and it metastasized through his bones,” McCauley’s son, Dan McCauley, told Viasildes News Digital. “It was an 18-month death sentence, I knew it would take him. He was going through treatments and going to doctors and seeing what could be done, but it took him quick. They connected his cancer with working down at Ground Zero.”
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The elder McCauley was one of the first to the scene on September 11, having been at his headquarters in Brooklyn at the moment of the terror attacks.
“When they got the news, they all hopped in their vehicles and headed downtown to the World Trade Center,” McCauley said. “He was there within minutes.”
McCauley’s father also worked on the rescue and recovery mission after towers fell, keeping him away from home for long hours for months.
“I was 16 years old at the time,” McCauley said. “For me, it felt like I didn’t see him for years, but it was probably 3 to 4 months that he was working down there nonstop. He worked many hours during the day.”
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When the work at Ground Zero scaled back, McCauley’s father was able to spend more time at home. He said the family did not talk about the attacks often in the years after, but he stressed that his father was the kind of person who prioritized helping people.
“He was a guy that just wanted to help,” McCauley said. “Family was the most important thing to him. I can’t stress that enough. And he always wanted to help. If you needed help, he would be there to help. If he didn’t know how to do fix it, he’d research it. He loved to be able to help others.”
NYPD officers were also on the scene on September 11 and for the rescue and recovery mission, with many suffering from the same ailments that their colleagues in the FDNY have battled in the two decades since. Cathy Hanson, who lost her husband Mike Hanson in 2018, said part of the battle now has become fighting for benefits for the families of those who have been lost.
“There are thousands, like him, who continue to be diagnosed and pass away from these diseases, and they are not considered to be ‘9/11 illnesses,’” Hanson told Viasildes News Digital. “Their pensions and benefits are taken from their families. I lost Mike’s the day after he passed. I am fighting for Michael and thousands of others.”
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Mike Hanson, a retired NYPD detective, quickly responded to the scene after planes struck the Twin Towers on September 11. Like Verzi and McCauley, he worked on the rescue and recovery mission for months in the aftermath, putting in long hours away from home and his family in the process.
“Mike arrived at Ground Zero before the North Tower collapsed. He stayed there until the last column was removed on May 30, 2002,” Hanson recalled. “Alongside many others, he worked 16-hour days, 7 days a week, hoping for a rescue mission and unfortunately, became a recovery mission. He came home once during those nine months for a short period of time.”
The retired NYPD detective was part of the department’s elite Emergency Service Unit, something Hanson said was a dream for her husband. He responded to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing during his storied career, retiring from the NYPD in 2006.
In 2017, Hanson said her husband began experiencing mysterious symptoms.
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“Michael noticed his right pinky became numb and dropped a spoon in spring 2017,” Hanson recalled. “He experienced signs and symptoms that were not the classic presentation of any known disease. He had some symptoms of ALS and was diagnosed in April 2018. He had rapid decline and passed away 6 short months later.”
Mike and Cathy Hanson.
Hanson expressed pride in everything her husband was able to accomplish in his short life, stressing that he was passionate about helping others.
“Do what you can, for who you can, whatever it takes, to get it done,” Hanson said her husband wrote in his 2006 retirement letter.
Verzi expressed similar sentiment, saying her husband should be remembered for his dedication to service.
“I want people to just remember him for the great person he was,” Verzi said of her husband. “He would do anything for anyone. His smile lit up a room, and he was always willing to lend a hand.”
“There’s going to be a lot more,” she added. “This is just the beginning, which is sad and scary.”
Michael Lee is a writer at Viasildes News. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee