New York City

Stuyvesant High School Grads Who Fell Ill After 9/11 Urge Former Classmates to Get Screened

What to Know

  • There will be a town hall at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday for people to learn more about the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund
  • People who lived or worked near Ground Zero can for health care or compensation from the fund.
  • More than 5,000 people have been diagnosed with cancers or other diseases thought to be linked to the attacks.

Lila Nordstrom was a happy, healthy senior at Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan in 2001, even after the 9/11 attacks that filled the school's Battery Park neighborhood with dust and debris. 

But after suffering from chronic bronchitis for years, Nordstrom on Thursday stood with some of her classmates who found out years later they also got stick, likely from the air down there. 

"I just remember the air was so thick, it was almost suffocating," said classmate Tal Berry, as he stood with health advocates in front of the school, just blocks from the twin towers collapsed. 

Nordstrom recalled, "We were given so many assurances the air was safe to breathe when we came down here." 

Shoshana Dornhelm was just a sophomore at the time. She recently finished six rounds of chemo for Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

Now, she said, "I'm happy and healthy and incredibly grateful" -- grateful that the people who went to the elite New York City high school may be eligible for the same free health care and compensation that goes to first responders under the Zadroga Act. The act is named for the NYPD officer who died from crippling respiratory failure after working at ground zero.

Two forums inside Stuyvesant High School Thursday night will encourage former students and staffers to get free screening to see if they're eligible for the Zadroga Act. They know there are no guarantees. 

"They'll ask you a bunch of questions," said Berry. "If you don't qualify, you don't qualify."

Attorney Michael Barash said the students deserve the same protection as the 2,500 first responders at ground zero who now have certified cancers. 

"It's one thing for firefighters and cops to get sick. They sign up for dangerous jobs. But children?" he said. 

"This is something we are gonna have to continue to contend with, especially my age group," said Nordstrom, who now lives in Los Angeles. "Our whole lives, we are gonna have to deal with this." 

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