A group of former students from a Lower Manhattan high school and other advocates held a public health forum Thursday to continue raising awareness about 9/11-related illnesses — and share their experiences to urge others to step forward and get treatment.
The coalition included former students of Stuyvesant High School — which is just blocks from the World Trade Center — the United Federation of Teachers (UTF), 9/11 Environmental Action, Stuy Health and Michael Barasch, a 9/11 victims’ rights attorney. Since the first forum in Chinatown in November, hundreds of victims have registered for health and compensation programs.
“Ordinary people who lived and worked downtown on 9/11, who have gotten sick, often have no idea that they are entitled to medical treatment and possibly compensation,” UTF President Michael Mulgrew said. “We know teachers and staff and students in our schools have gotten ill. We have gotten hundreds of emails and calls from school staff after starting this information campaign, so we want do everything we can to alert them of their rights.”
Shoshana Dornhelm, who was a sophomore at Stuyvesant on 9/11, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 30. Though she has recovered, she must take medication and get regular screenings for the rest of her life.
“I want to be a part of that network for others in my position by letting them know what resources are available to them and helping them through the process of applying,” she said. “It’s imperative to the health and future of all of us who lived through this experience that these resources are in place and easily accessible.”
Tal Beery graduated from Stuyvesant in 2002 and has since been diagnosed with severe asthma. “It only occurred to me later that we returned to the school too soon after the attack,” he said. “For months after we came back, the air outside the school was thick with smoke and the smells of burning debris; it was hard to breath.”
Barasch, who has represented thousands of first responders, hopes these forums encourage others to seek out the federal compensation and health care available for them.
“These students and teachers were simply returning to school after being assured they would be safe. Now they are suffering terrible consequences through no fault of their own,” he said. “We fought so hard to convince Congress to create these programs, and now we need to make sure that the people for whom they were intended take advantage of it.”