Susan Herr worked as a computer programmer on the 68th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower on 9/11. She was descending to the lobby when United Airlines Flight # 175 slammed into the building. Covered with dust, Herr ran all the way to midtown, where her sister-in-law worked, until she could get home to Long Island. First she suffered from anxiety and nightmares, but other health problems developed in 2002 that persist to this day.
“I began to bring water and candy with me everywhere to soothe a cough that just wouldn't go away,” said Herr. “Any excitement or over exertion would set it off and walking and breathing became increasingly difficult.”
Herr is now one of nearly 5,000 non-responders and their children, ages 4 -90, who are receiving comprehensive medical and mental health treatment at the HHC World Trade Center Environmental Health Center following the non-responders' exposure on 9/11.
HHC officials say many people who lived, worked and attended school in Lower Manhattan are continuing to develop symptoms. The WTC Center has seen an increase of well over 2,000 patients compared to 2008, and the program is still growing.
Herr was diagnosed with asthma and prescribed medications that reduced her cough and improved her breathing. Now she drives two hours for treatment and joins the HHC team lobbying Congress for adequate funding for other survivors in need of care.
The most common symptoms among the WTC Center patient population indicates that 54 percent suffer from upper respiratory distress, 70 percent have lower respiratory conditions, 44 percent have gastrointestinal problems, and 46 percent have neurological disorders and headaches. And more than half of all patients - 51 percent - have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety.
“Lots of people had symptoms but didn't make the connection or they had mild symptoms for a long time that they ignored until they became worse.” explains Joan Reibman, MD, the WTC Center's medical director.
The WTC Environmental Health Center operates from three HHC facilities that offer assessment and treatment of WTC-related conditions for adults and children: Bellevue Hospital, Gouverneur Healthcare Services and Elmhurst Hospital. Care is provided to residents, students, workers, passersby and those who helped in the cleanup of affected areas who may still be sick from 9/11. The multidisciplinary treatment program includes medical, mental health and social services.
In addition, HHC has the only program in the country dedicated to treating WTC-related health conditions among children. They receive specialized services including pediatrics, child developmental psychology, pulmonology and creative arts therapy.
"There are adults and children that even nine years later may now be experiencing persistent and worsening cough, asthma, anxiety or other problems that may stem from 9/11," said HHC President Alan D. Aviles. "We encourage people who think they or their children may be sick from 9/11 events to reach out to us for help."
The services are available at no out of pocket expense regardless of insurance or immigration status. For more information about the HHC WTC Environmental Health Center, visit our web site at www.nyc.gov/hhc or call 311 or 1-877-982-0107 toll free.