NYC: another Ground Zero martyr

From the New York Post, Nov. 3:

Ground Zero’s “Angel” Nun Dies
An Episcopal nun who spent five months blessing remains at the World Trade Center died this week and has been granted her dying wish – to be autopsied to prove her lung disease was caused by toxins she inhaled.

Sister Cindy Mahoney, 54 – who became known as the “Angel of Ground Zero” – arranged for the autopsy from her deathbed months ago, hoping to help the cause of 9/11 rescue and recovery workers seeking financial aid and medical care.

“This can’t happen over and over and over again,” she told David Worby, a lawyer for 8,000 recovery workers in a videotaped statement in August.

“There are people like me who have given up [the struggle to survive]. Because we’re asking for help we’re made to feel like malingerers.

“Don’t let them shut us down,” she begged.

The autopsy was performed by Dr. Janice Ross, a pathologist in South Carolina, where she moved in 2002.

The findings will be reviewed by Dr. Michael Baden, the city’s former chief medical examiner.

They are waiting for lab results from tissue samples, which are expected in the next two weeks.

The autopsy could prove that WTC dust was deadly – because Mahoney had been a healthy, active, non-smoker. “She came to 9/11 with clean lungs,” Worby said.

A New Jersey medical examiner has attributed the death of retired NYPD detective James Zadroga to his time at Ground Zero – the only such ruling so far.

Worby said 81 of the workers he represents in a class-action suit against the city have died, but none was autopsied.

“Her whole life was about helping people,” said Mahoney’s niece, Elizabeth McManus, 23, who cared for her aunt around the clock in the Aiken, S.C., home of friends.

The big-hearted, feisty Mahoney. a former EMT who grew up in Aiken, became ill and destitute after returning to her hometown from New York.

Two weeks before 9/11, she had been transferred to a lower Manhattan convent, and raced to the Twin Towers when the planes hit.

She spent nearly every day consoling relatives of the dead, blessing body parts, and comforting fellow workers.

About 4 a.m. Wednesday, Mahoney called frantically for her niece.

“I can’t breathe. Help me! Help me!” she cried.

“Those last few minutes she was absolutely terrified,” the niece said.

Mahoney suffered chronic obstructive lung disease, asthma, and other respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases common to Ground Zero workers, Worby and relatives said.

“She was so sick and suffering so badly, and that’s over for her now,” McManus said.

“She believed in heaven and would say, ‘I’m just waiting to be called home.’ “

See our last post on the struggle for 9-11’s legacy in New York City.

  1. Controversy around Ground Zero death
    From the AP, Oct. 26, 2007:

    NEW YORK — The lung disease that killed a police detective who toiled for weeks at Ground Zero was caused by injecting ground-up pills, not by toxic dust from the World Trade Center, the city medical examiner’s office confirmed Thursday after the man’s family released more than 100 pages of medical records.

    Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch’s ruling outraged the family of 34-year-old James Zadroga, who became a national symbol of post-Sept. 11 illness after his death last year. Hirsch said he found some substances “deep in the tissue of the lungs.”

    Dr. Michael Baden, a pathologist for the New York State Police and a frequent expert witness in criminal cases, reviewed slides of Zadroga’s lung tissue and said he saw large glass fibers, plastic and other materials that would have come from toxic dust.

    Baden said the material in question was found “primarily in the airways,” not deep in the tissue, proving that the particles were inhaled, not injected.

    He also said that if Zadroga had been grinding down pills and injecting them, his autopsy report would have noted scars and needle tracks on his arms.