All gave some. Some gave all. And others, like Mike Tegano, are still giving.
Tegano, of Millstone, N.J., was a New York City police narcotics detective on Sept. 11, 2001. Except for an ankle injury that had him on restricted duty at the time, he was a healthy, happy 36-year-old husband and father of three. And when the Twin Towers were attacked that morning, he did what most first-responders in the city did: headed to Ground Zero to help in whatever way possible.
“Such devastation … [it] was surreal,” Tegano said. “The site was a complete and absolute horror.”
Little did he know that his own personal horror was just beginning.
Today, Tegano is suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which he was diagnosed with in 2003. He is struggling with the symptoms from post-traumatic stress syndrome, which makes him prone to lashing out. And he is feeling totally disrespected by the mayor of New York City and the NYPD, who he says left him and others like him unprepared for the repercussions of their work during the 9/11 recovery.
And he isn’t alone.
According to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, some 30,000 people who either worked on the pile at Ground Zero, sifted through World Trade Center rubble looking for victim’s remains at the Staten Island landfill, or who lived in the area have gotten sick as a result of from the toxins that emanated from the site.
Frank Marra, a retired New York cop who also lives in Millstone, became frustrated by the plight of first responders like himself and Tegano and began compiling their stories with the hopes of one day making them part of a TV documentary.
“Everyone who was directly affected needs a voice, a platform to be heard,” said Marra, 45, a former sergeant for the Brooklyn South Gang Unit. And he’s not talking about novels-turned-movies, like Tom Hanks’ “Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud.”
“Mike Tegano is a fighter and the tragic events of 9/11 have put him in this situation,” Marra added. “He and others like him should be able to tell their stories from that tragic day to where they are now.”
Tegano spent the first days after the attacks doing duty in lower Manhattan and was assigned to working at the landfill in November. It was a task he welcomed.
“It felt like you were providing closure for those who had lost someone there,” he said. “It was my job … and I would do it all over again.”
In January 2003, Tegano went for a medical screening offered by the city to first-responders. Shortly afterward, he learned that he had cancer. His life has been on a downward spiral since.
He underwent two rounds of chemotherapy, the first for three months in 2003 and the second for 24 months ending this past December. The treatments have left him lethargic and forgetful, and have caused his weight to balloon from 180 to 270 pounds.