Dr. Michael Guttenberg, who was assigned to the World Trade Center site on 9/11 when terrorists attacked and worked in the debris from the towers afterward, has died of pancreatic cancer linked to airborne toxins at Ground Zero.
A resident of Jericho, Guttenberg most recently served as a top emergency physician for Northwell Health. He died Oct. 17 at The Hospice Inn in Melville at age 50.
The WTC Health Program, set up by Congress to help monitor and treat those sickened by their presence in lower Manhattan after the attacks, certified Guttenberg’s cancer in December as being connected to his 9/11 work, according to a letter from the program provided by his family attorney.
In testimony to a World Trade Center task force three weeks after the attack, Guttenberg recounted uncertainty, loud booms, “lots of shoes all over the place and plane parts” (“I don’t know if that was women jumping out of their heels to run”) ... followed by “absolute silence for probably 10 or 15 seconds” after the second plane struck. Then, the first tower fell.
“I thought it was another airplane, and I looked up, and it was after, you know, everything was sort of pitch black, and there was dust flying everywhere, and I looked up,” he said, “all I saw was — I saw the tower with the antenna.”
It happened again after the second tower came down — and he and his crew ran for safety.
His sister, Abbie Youkilis of Cincinnati, said Guttenberg spent the month of September 2001 at Ground Zero, where he was an FDNY emergency medical service fellow that year.
Guttenberg was diagnosed with cancer more than four years ago, but served as medical director of Northwell Health’s Center for Emergency Medical Services, said his boss, Dr. John D’Angelo.
Guttenberg helped oversee the system’s ambulance corps, and emergency preparedness and ensured the hospital could handle hurricanes, electricity outages, Ebola outbreaks, transporting volatile psychiatric patients, and more, D’Angelo said.
“He lived and breathed the work. He was fully dedicated and entrenched in the work,” D’Angelo said. “He was very passionate about the impact he has, not just at the bedside when taking care of an individual patient, but in the greater community.”
Michael Gary Guttenberg was born Feb. 3, 1967, to Ethel Goldring Guttenberg, a nurse, and Marvin Guttenberg, a pharmacist, at what was then called North Shore Hospital. He grew up in East Northport, graduated from Commack North High School in 1985, Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, with a bachelor’s degree in sociology with honors in 1989, and New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in of New York Institute of Technology in 1997. He also worked as an emergency medical technician before he finished medical school.
In addition, Guttenberg did volunteer work for the ambulance corps of Commack and Chevra Hatzalah in Rockland County.
Other survivors include three brothers, Ira Guttenberg of Advance, North Carolina; Fred Guttenberg of Parkland, Florida; and Paul Guttenberg of Commack.
A funeral for Michael Guttenberg was held Oct. 19 at Gutterman’s Funeral Home in Woodbury, followed by burial at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens.
A memorial fund in his honor has been established to help paramedics who want to attend medical school. Donations can be made to: Northwell Health Foundation, 2000 Marcus Ave., New Hyde Park, NY 11042.
In the years after the attacks, Guttenberg was reluctant to talk much about that horrible day, his sister said. But that day, amid thick debris in the air and as radios and cellphones stopped working, Guttenberg just wanted to reach out to his family.
“It was frustrating as hell, I can tell you,” he said in 2001. He added: “All I wanted to do after I got out and a safe distance away was actually just call my folks and say, ‘You know, I’m alive.’ ”