John Devlin, 49, Brightwaters

John C. Devlin, 49, of Brightwaters, native of

John C. Devlin, 49, of Brightwaters, native of Forest Hills, Queens, spent 9.5 months at the WTC site, as a heavy-machine operating engineer, with Local 15, clearing debris of the World Trade Center. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the throat in 2009. (Jan. 26, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / Oswaldo Jimenez)

Heavy machinery operating engineer with Local 15 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Worked for 9 1/2 months at Ground Zero. Receives workers' compensation and Social Security

 

By the second week working at Ground Zero, John Devlin said, he and his colleagues started having breathing problems and coughing up phlegm.

"We're taking years off our life being here," Devlin remembers saying. "It was a martini of toxic chemicals."

He operated front-end loaders, bulldozers and a turbo Bobcat helping to clear debris.

In 2004, Devlin, father of Daniella, 20, and Matthew, 15, who said he never smoked, led an active life, practiced martial arts and was passionate about horse-riding and skiing, received $65,000 from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001.

None of that included any estimate for future lost wages - Devlin always thought he'd work, and before 9/11 he earned more than $100,000 a year. The 2001 compensation fund payout went to household bills and his medical treatment.

Five years later, he was diagnosed with inoperable Stage 4 throat cancer that has spread to his lymph nodes and which doctors at the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Programhave said they believe is linked to his exposure at the site. After punishing amounts of radiation and chemotherapy, Devlin was left without salivary glands and in constant pain. The scarring from aggressive treatment left him without a voice at first. Intensive speech therapy has helped so that now he talks with a rasp. For a year, he had to rely on a feeding tube because the treatment destroyed parts of his throat, burned his epiglottis, which closes the airway passage when food is consumed, and left him unable to swallow.

Recently, the tube fell out and Devlin decided not to allow doctors to put it back in, saying the feeding tube confined him to his house and took a devastating toll on his quality of life. He's opted instead for a diet of soft foods and shakes that he said he constantly aspirates, giving him recurring bouts of pneumonia and worsening his 9/11-related lung condition.

The oncologist treating Devlin, Dr. Roger Keresztes of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, wrote he believed the cancer is also connected to exposure at Ground Zero. New York State Workers' Compensation Board ruled the cancer work-related.

Devlin's noncancer treatments are covered by Zadroga Act health care provisions. But his cancer is not included on the list of recognized 9/11 ailments.

Even if it ends up included, a decision that will be left to the Zadroga health administrator, Devlin may not benefit from the law's compensation provisions because he already received the Victim Compensation Fund payout. "If I knew I was going to get cancer, I would have never signed anything," he said.

Devlin chafes at suggestions responders are greedy.

"People's lives are shorter. . . . We're dying. I'm grateful the law passed, but you can't pick and choose. It [9/11] was an act of war. . . . The law was passed for the 9/11 responders that were down there and if you can prove you were there, there shouldn't be one legitimate responder who's sick left out.

"Until that happens, this law is flawed. We're all in this together, like we were down there."

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