Glen Klein, 52, Centereach

Portrait of Retired NYPD Detective Glen Klein remembers

Portrait of Retired NYPD Detective Glen Klein remembers his experiences working at ground zero after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center while speaking to a reporter in his home. (Jan. 27, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

Detective with the NYPD Emergency Services Unit. Worked 800-plus hours at the World Trade Center site, starting Sept. 11, 2001. Retired January 2003, and seeks to have his service pension reclassified as a disability pension

 

If New York City police needed to do a scuba rescue, handle a hostage situation or respond to a terrorist threat, they called Glen Klein's team.

Klein belonged to the unit dealing with the toughest situations cops can face. Klein and his colleagues were closer than brothers. "We depended on each other for our survival," he said.

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, members of the unit rushed into each of the burning World Trade Center towers. Klein was at his Levittown home when the first plane hit at 8:46 a.m. He was nearing the scene when the second tower fell.

"We lost 14 of our guys," he recalls. "It was like someone coming in and killing my family."

Klein remembers those first few days when there was still hope maybe a colleague would be pulled alive from the rubble - then the reality that instead nearly 3,000 people had perished, followed by months searching and meticulous documentation as body parts were found. "A good day was when we found a bone or a piece of flesh. It made you happy because you knew you were giving a family closure. . . . It takes a toll on you, but I have people now who still [make contact to] thank me for digging for their loved one."

After Sept. 11, Klein lost enthusiasm for the job he'd loved, and retired.

Meanwhile he'd had a bout of searing stomach pain and began noticing he was short of breath. His regular 5-mile run became a 3-mile loop and then a walk-run-walk until he had to give it up sometime in late 2003 or early 2004.

Pre-9/11, X-rays and annual medical exams showed no problems with his lungs. Now, there is scarring and nodules on them and he needs an inhaler to walk up more than three flights of stairs.

Along with the physical ailments, there was a psychological toll. He lost patience with his young children, started overdrinking, and would have to pull over while driving to cry.

For his wife, Carole, a nurse practitioner, it was as if a big part of the man she knew before 9/11 fell with those towers.

"It's been a challenge to live through it and we're still living through it - it just never goes away," she said. "He's not what he used to be. He can't focus, he gets distracted very easily . . . he's lost interest in pretty much everything."

She insisted he seek psychological help and he was diagnosed with 9/11-related post-traumatic stress disorder. He's now on medication for it, has ongoing therapy and now helps support other responders suffering the same - especially police.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program in Islandia, affiliated with Stony Brook University Medical Center, said the relationship between PTSD and physical impairments for 9/11 responders is complex and interconnected. "These patients often have significant physical and mental health conditions which exacerbate each other. The physiological changes that occur in PTSD can worsen respiratory and cardiac problems, and same is true vice versa," he said.

Klein chose to be included in the recent mass settlement in federal court in Manhattan for people who sued New York City and Sept. 11 contractors. He has yet to learn the final amount he will receive, but has been told he falls in a tier that would qualify for a mid-five-figure sum.

Treatment of Klein's PTSD and physical injuries will be covered for the next five years under the Zadroga Act. He didn't apply to the 2001 compensation fund, so he's eligible to apply for compensation under Zadroga as well. His attorney Sean Riordan said that because of Klein's physical injuries, "we're hopeful" his PTSD will also be considered a factor in calculating Zadroga compensation.

Any compensation, though, probably won't calm the fears Klein has for the future. While his family is managing to pay the bills, Klein said not a day goes by that he doesn't think about going to a doctor's office and being told he has cancer.

"I know that my life is going to be cut short and I just want to make sure that my family is well taken care of when I'm gone," he said.

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