The terror attacks of September 11, 2001, are still taking American lives. Today, nearly 11 years after the attacks, we are seeing continued loss of life as first responders succumb to cancer and other health problems tied to their rescue efforts.
At The V Foundation Wine Celebration fundraiser on August 4, the most compelling auction lot was Fund-A-Need, which honored these first responders. V Foundation CEO Nick Valvano introduced the Fund-A-Need and acknowledged the dozens of men and women in uniform surrounding the room, Napa County's first responders, who received a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd. After a video showing images from that fateful day accompanied by a stirring rendition of God Bless America sung by the "singing policeman," New York City cop Daniel Rodriguez, bidders honored these heroes by uniting to donate more than $800,000 to support a collaborative effort between the Fire Department of the City of New York WTC Health Program, Montefiore Medical Center, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the National Cancer Institute.
Nearly 100 guests donated to the Fund-A-Need, auction lot #11, with Michael and Carole Marks, followed by Tracy and Lou Ann ORourke kicking it off by pledging $100,000 each.
In the wake of the destruction of the twin World Trade Center towers, 50,000 police, firefighters and others rushed to Ground Zero to help. More than half of all New York City firefighters assisted with search, rescue and recovery operations. They weren't concerned about their own health. They had one mission: to rescue and save lives. On the day of the attack, fewer than 20 percent of them wore protective masks. What no one knew at the time was the long-term effect this would have on their bodies. Many of those first responders are now being diagnosed with diseases linked to toxic dust and debris.
"The way to save lives is through the early diagnosis of cancer," said David Prezant, M.D., chief medical officer at the Office of Medical Affairs for the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY). "The V Foundation will allow us to develop tools for the early diagnosis of hematologic cancers, specifically leukemia and multiple myeloma." Dr. Prezant directs all medical protocol development for both day-to-day operations and homeland security issues for the fire department. He is also co-director of the FDNY World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program and senior pulmonary consultant for FDNY.
The collapse of the Twin Towers contaminated the nearby air with particles of glass, asbestos, cement, lead and other toxins. It is thought that exposure to this dust through the lungs and skin has contributed to the increased risk experienced by rescue workers, especially those who were on the site immediately after the attack.
Many first responders being diagnosed with rare cancers at a relatively young age had no prior health issues of family history of cancer. The New York City Fire Department produced a study of 13,000 firefighters published in The Lancet. The study followed firefighters' cancer rates in the first seven years following the attack, and found that those who served at the scene have experienced a 19 percent increase in all cancers compared with those who did not work at Ground Zero. Last December, NYPD union officials reported that 263 city officers who had worked at Ground Zero had cancer, and 45 had died.
Iris Udasin, a doctor of internal medicine at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, recalls opening the door to about 200 first responders in that first year. Today, she says, the institute gets about 1,000 visits a year. "We thought we were just going to be surveillance, telling them this is what you have to do to prevent yourself from getting sick," Udasin recalled. "Instead, we discovered that most of our patients were actually already sick."
"We acknowledge the heroes who rushed to Ground Zero in the hours and days after the attacks of 9/11 who are now sick, and pay tribute to the noble men and women who rose to the defense of America in a time of war," said V Foundation Chairman Bob Lloyd. "They risked their lives for us and they need to know that they inspire us to work tirelessly to try to save their lives."
As cancer trends are increasing nationwide, The V Foundation for Cancer Research is supporting the effort to prolong lives through the prediction and treatment of the disease. The V Foundation's signature fundraising event, The 14th annual V Wine Celebration, attracted attendees from all over the U.S. to the Napa Valley August 3 and 4 for a gala weekend of events and activities with a serious underlying purpose -- to benefit the foundation's efforts to support significant cancer research at major institutions and research centers nationwide. Attendees at this year's gathering contributed nearly $4 million for cancer research.
The 15th anniversary of the V Foundation Wine Celebration will be held August 2 and 3, 2013. For more information about the 2013 event, call 707-963-0611 or visit www.winecelebration.org.
The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN commentator. Since 1993, The Foundation has raised more than $120 million to fund cancer research grants nationwide. It awards 100 percent of all direct cash donations and net proceeds of events directly to cancer research and related programs. The V Foundation, which has received eight top four-star ratings from Charity Navigator, awards grants through a competitive awards process strictly supervised by a scientific advisory board.