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WTC Health Center Services Expand to Cancer Patients

Oma Deonarine
Oma Deonarine

Three years ago, Oma Deonarine finally made the connection between her persistent respiratory illness and her exposure to dust and debris on the morning of 9/11. She began to get care at HHC’s World Trade Center Environmental Health Center. But the thyroid cancer that had since developed could not be treated by the Bellevue Hospital WTC center team because it was not considered to be 9/11 related.

That changed last October, when the federal government added more than 20 categories of cancer to the list of 9/11-related conditions, expanding the healthcare available for Deonarine and many other first responders, workers, volunteers, students, visitors, and residents of Lower Manhattan who may be suffering from the disease.

“It’s important for people to know they can get treatment, they can get help,” said Deonarine, the mother of three children, ages 16, 10 and 8, who now gets coordinated care for cancer and asthma.

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

The Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) provides monetary compensation for any individual (or personal representative of someone deceased) who suffered physical harm, became physically ill, or died as a result of the WTC attacks and the clean-up efforts that took place in the aftermath. The registration deadline to apply is October 3, 2013. The VCF Eligibility Form is available at or by calling the VCF helpline at 1.855.885.1555 or 1.855.885.1558.

One of seven WTC Centers of Excellence in the New York City metropolitan area, the HHC center is the only one dedicated to treating members of the community rather than first responders and the only program that treats children. The patients are residents, students, workers, passersby and those who helped in the cleanup.

“Twelve years after 9/11, we continue to offer care to community members who were impacted by the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers,” said Dr. Joan Reibman, Medical Director of the HHC health center, with clinics at Bellevue, Gouverneur Health in Chinatown and Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. “There is still a clear and growing need for the high level of care and expertise we provide.”

“Our program continues to evolve as with the addition of cancer coverage this past year,” said Terry Miles, Executive Director of the WTC health center. Since HHC opened the WTC center in 2005, more than 6,660 patients have received treatment for physical and mental health conditions related to 9/11. Forty-seven percent of patients are female, 53 percent are male, and their average age is 54, noted Miles.

The physical problems of WTC health center patients include cancer, shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, chest tightness, nasal and sinus congestion, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The most common mental health problems are depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Under the new mandate, WTC health center staff can offer screening for the selected cancers and patients have the option to receive their cancer treatment at the WTC center or with other participating providers outside the HHC system.

Deonarine was working as a clerk at a clothing store on Fulton Street on the morning of 9/11. “We were about to close up the store when we saw a cloud coming around the corner. It was horrifying.”

Deonarine was enveloped in the cloud of debris. She walked most of the way to the Bronx, where she lived at the time. “I cried all the way home.”

A year after the attacks, she started having respiratory problems. Three years ago she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She has had four surgeries followed by several rounds of radiation. Deonarine said of her children, “I don’t let them see me sad. I only let them see me strong. I want to live to see my children grow up, go to college, get married.”

The WTC Environmental Health Center is funded under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, effective July 1, 2011. Patients can get treatment regardless of their insurance status, immigration status or ability to pay. The WTC health center is also funded for research projects to investigate causes of continued lower respiratory symptoms in adults, to study potential health effects in adolescents who had childhood WTC exposure, and to continue its collaboration with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for a respiratory study over time of people in the WTC Registry.

To determine eligibility and to enroll in the program, call 1-888-WTC-HP4U (1-888-982-4748) or visit


September 2013

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