9/11 First Responders: 'We're Dead Men Walking'

Years After Attacks, Many Face Reality Death May Be Near
By Dana Tyler

Feb. 20, 2007

More than five years after the 9/11 terror attacks, the full impact of that day is still unknown. First responders who rushed into the collapsing buildings are dealing with health issues they believe could be just the tip of the iceberg.

CBS 2 spoke to many who now say they are dead men walking.

First responders charged toward ground zero on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, united in their mission.

"I saw the second plane hit, both towers come down," Vito Valente said. "It went from day to night."

"When things are at their very worst is when we are at our very best," Mike McCormack added. "It subsequently changed my life forever."

Today, seven out of every 10 suffer from respiratory disease.

And that's just the beginning.

"My wife to this day is still pulling pieces of glass out of my back," John Feal said. "I have nose bleeds on a regular basis, ringing of the ears, can't sleep."

CBS 2 spoke to just six of the 33,000 people who are now being treated after working at ground zero. As time goes by, new health problems emerge, some unexplained.

"I have a rash that's in the back of my leg now," Valente said.

"The fear is that most of us are going to get some kind of cancer in our esophagus," Feal said.

They also suffer from massive migraines, unexplained rashes and aches and pains that defy explanation.

Dr. Jacqueline Moline of Mount Sinai's Monitoring and Treatment Program said she's often powerless.

"We're hearing the same complaints over and over and over again," Moline said.

Mount Sinai monitors nearly 20,000 first responders on a continual basis.

"There is no doubt in the minds of any of us who've seen the thousands of responders that their health had been adversely affected by these exposures," Moline said.

For many, the picture is grim.

"We will unfortunately outnumber those people who died on 9/11," one of the responders said. "Vito Valente is going to die. Mike McCormack is going to die."

Valente needs a double-lung transplant. McCormack has a piece of metal embedded in his lung after volunteering for eight days at ground zero.

McCormack found the flag that flew atop the Twin Towers.

"It was 1,100 degrees, dark and dusty," McCormack said.

Feal's foot was crushed from falling metal.

"I ended up getting wedged in and buried beneath the ground," Feal said.

Vinny Forras was honored by President Bush. He escaped after being trapped.

Acts of heroism that came at a high price, physically and emotionally.

"It's like walking through a door which you can never return from," one of the responders said.

All of the men said they've had to show proof they worked at ground zero. All of them now also suffer from sleep problems.

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