FDNY Deputy Chief Thomas Riley of Nassau County was cancer-free for 13 years until last year, when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma behind his left eye -- the kind of illness he expected after working on the 9/11 pile for nine months.
"My wife and kids worried all these years; wondering what would happen. I figured something might happen, and it did, in 2014," Riley said at a news conference Thursday at the World Trade Center site. Dozens of first responders came out to support the renewal of the Zadroga Act. The bill pays for the medical treatments and monitoring services for thousands who have fallen ill after responding to the devastation, or who lived and worked in the neighborhood.
"Doctors found a mass behind my eye," said Riley, whose vision is blurry in that eye. He said doctors told him the cancer will probably spread to his right eye, ending his 36-year FDNY career.
Medical bills mounted after surgery and six months of radiation, said Riley, 58, who signed up for the World Trade Center Health Program and the Victim Compensation Fund, which pay his medical bills. The act is named for James Zadroga, an NYPD officer whose 2006 death at age 34 was attributed to his work at Ground Zero.
"It took a big financial burden off of my family," said Riley, who is among 70,000 firefighters, police officers, office workers and cleaning crews who became ill after breathing the dust composed of pulverized glass, concrete and steel that blanketed lower Manhattan.
Congressional officials Thursday vowed to work together to renew the Zadroga Act so it will be permanently funded and exempt from budget cuts.
"People continue to suffer from cancer, and this program is working," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan).
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he would bring the personal stories of 9/11 survivors to his Republican colleagues who may oppose renewing the bill. "This should be beyond debate. This is an American issue," King said.
Retired NYPD Officer Edwin Rivera, 47, of Wappingers Falls, was diagnosed with throat cancer eight years after he worked the bucket brigade that removed rubble from the pile while looking for survivors. He was later assigned to a post at Ground Zero for five months.
"We rested, ate and slept in that powder," said Rivera, whose symptoms are constant dry mouth, bleeding from his ears and neck spasms.
Retired NYPD Officer Joseph Ramondino, 53, of Queens, said he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and basal cell carcinoma on his face two years ago. He said annual monitoring offered early detection.
John Feal of the FealGood Foundation, which helped spearhead the Zadroga Act, said: "It took us eight years to pass this act. . . . Now we are asking for a permanent bill. Eventually we will all die, so we just want to extend it until the last person dies."