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Joe Zadroga: My 9/11 Responder Son Died from Exposure to Ground Zero as Officials Denied Connection

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Image Credit: 9/11’s Unsettled Dust

As we look at “9/11’s Unsettled Dust” and the massive environmental and public health crisis that followed the 9/11 attacks in New York City 20 years ago this week, we speak with Joe Zadroga, father of New York police officer James Zadroga, who died of a respiratory illness after assisting in rescue efforts at ground zero. He says government officials spent years denying his son’s symptoms were related to ground zero rescue efforts. “We spent five years trying to get Jimmy help,” says Zadroga. “Everyone refused to help us.” Congressmember Carolyn Maloney said she faced extreme pressure to change the name of the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act, which provides billions in healthcare for them.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we spend the hour looking at the outraging film 9/11’s Unsettled Dust, the powerful documentary following the 9/11 responders and other survivors who had to fight for healthcare justice while they were sick. In this clip, we hear Joe Zadroga discuss his son James, a 9/11 responder, and then New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.

JOE ZADROGA: My son Jimmy, who was an NYPD detective, he was actually sick as soon as he got home. Three months after the event, I said to him, “You know, let’s go to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and go talk to, you know, the pulmonologist, the head pulmonologist in Columbia Presbyterian.” And I took him. We went to the hospital. The doctor sat with him for an hour or so and examined him and told us to come back in two weeks.

Well, when we came back in two weeks, the doctor brought us into his office, with nice cushioned chairs and everything, and sat us down and just said to Jimmy, “I’m not going to treat you.” And we were shocked. And we said, “What do you mean, you’re not going to treat him?” He said, “No, I’m not going to treat him.” And he got up and walked out. And, you know, we were a little dumbfounded. And we looked at each other. We couldn’t understand why this doctor wouldn’t treat him. And as we were going down the elevator I said to Jimmy, I said, “Jimmy, this is going to be a long process.” I said, “And to tell you the truth, you’re screwed. They’re not going to take care of you.”

You know, the department treated him terrible. The department refused to admit that he was sick. And they just persecuted him, and they wouldn’t give up. Really, they wanted him to quit. They would send a sergeant to the house to make sure he was in the house, because they were hoping to catch him outside the house, where they could discipline him and probably fire him. That’s how much they wanted to get rid of him, to say that he wasn’t sick.

Jimmy died January 6th, 2006. Found him up in his bedroom with his little daughter sleeping on the bed. He got up during the night to get her a bottle, and I found him on the floor with the bottle in his hand, the baby sleeping.

Fortunately, we were in New Jersey, and the Ocean County Medical Examiner did a post on him. And the post came back. The doctor stated on the medical report that Jimmy died from working at ground zero on 9/11, that he had the dust particles in his lungs and that’s what he passed away from.

Of course, the city wouldn’t admit to that. Bloomberg came on the air and said, with his medical examiner, that “Who was this New Jersey medical examiner to say that this person” — he wouldn’t call him an officer — “that this person died from 9/11?”

So, when we went to the Medical Examiner’s Office, I brought a picture of Jimmy. I said, “Listen, we’re not talking about an object here. We’re talking about my son. And I want you to look at that picture when you talk about him.” He turned around and said, “Listen, I want you, your family, to drop that saying that he died from 9/11. If you don’t drop that he died from 9/11, I will go to the press and I will say that James used his drugs illegally and he died from misusing his drugs.”

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: It became so nasty, with so many headlines that were derogatory towards James Zadroga, that some people came to me and said, “Carolyn, change the title of the bill. It’s too controversial. Everyone believes that Zadroga was a dope addict.” I said, “If I change it to whoever the next name is, they’ll do the same thing to them. He wasn’t a dope addict. He was a first responder. He served at 9/11. And we should stick with the Zadroga name.”

AMY GOODMAN: “We should stick with the Zadroga name.” That was Congressmember Carolyn Maloney of New York in the documentary 9/11’s Unsettled Dust, which is premiering this week.

We are joined now by Joe Zadroga. You’ve just been watching or listening to the father of the NYPD police detective James Zadroga, who died of a respiratory illness after assisting in rescue efforts at ground zero.

Joe, we didn’t see your son, year after year, either in a wheelchair or with oxygen or with crutches, going to Washington, this parade of people who were victims of 9/11 — of their own government — because he died in 2006. But Carolyn Maloney stuck with your son being the name on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Can you talk about what this means to you, and who is covered, and what you went through at the end trying to get Jimmy help?

JOE ZADROGA: Well, yeah, we spent five years trying to get Jimmy help medically, through the politicians, through newspapers, through the radio, through TV stations. Everyone refused to help us. They would deny us access. When he went to the hospital, the doctors would want to treat him. They wanted to treat him, and they said they would take good care of him. He was a 9/11 responder. They would take good care of him. And then, two days later, they discharged him. Obviously, it was from the — it wasn’t from the doctors; it was from the administration from the hospitals telling them to get him out and, you know, let him go home and die. More or less, that’s what they were saying. And we went on for five years trying that, and we went to everybody. And it was very frustrating, and it took a toll on the family, took a toll, obviously, on Jimmy. Jimmy felt that, you know, they just let him out to die, more or less.

The police department wouldn’t do anything for him. As I said previously, they were trying to get rid of him. They wanted him to go out on a general disability, just to get rid of him. And I told Jimmy to refuse general disability — it was definitely a job-connected injury — and to stay for the fight. And we stayed for the fight. And eventually, they did let him out on a job-related injury. They didn’t say it was directly the result of 9/11, but they let him out. And more or less, you know, they just wanted to get rid of him. And that’s how it went.

And he was on oxygen. I mean, to sit and watch as your child, who was a healthy 30-year-old man, deteriorate down to sitting on oxygen 24/7. His wife passed away from the stress of watching him die.

In the early part, we did go to one doctor in Westchester. Actually, Jimmy was friends with all the firemen, because he worked street crimes citywide. So, he knew — he used to go to firehouses to eat. But he asked to tell him — he asked the firemen who they go to for their lung problems. And they gave him a doctor in Westchester. And, mind you, this is within three months after the event. And he went to the doctor in Westchester. The doctor examined him. And after examination, the doctor told him, “Three years, you’re going to be blind. Five years, you’re going to be dead.” And he did. He died in five years.

AMY GOODMAN: And our condolences, because even though it was 2006, I know how incredibly hard this is for you on this 20th anniversary, Joe — what is it? — 15 years later.

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Next story from this daily show

“Some Kids Left Behind”: After 9/11, No Safety Measures at Stuyvesant H.S. Led to Sickness & Death

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