9/11 Survivor Now Working on Coronavirus Front Lines

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By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Over the past 20 years, New York City has been ground zero for two incomprehensible disasters.

Thomas Lo, of Queens, has been in the middle of both of them.

"Man, what are the chances that I survive 9/11, but now with coronavirus, I'm on the front lines?" Lo said. "I don't know how many people out there have survived 9/11, are from New York, are now frontline workers."

On Sept. 11, 2001, Lo's 23rd birthday, he was working for Morgan Stanley in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

"I was actually working on the 73rd floor," Lo said. "That morning changed the world and changed my life."

Lo was sitting at his desk when the first plane hit the North Tower.

"Pretty quickly there was just chaos happening," Lo said. "I quickly walked down to the 44th floor following everyone else and really not sure of what was happening. On the 44th floor was the sky lobby where we were all gathering and just trying to wait for direction, and shortly thereafter, I felt my building sway and I heard the creaking of the metal bending as my building spun back and forth as the second plane hit."

"I thought we were going to topple over. I thought to myself, 'Well this is it. I'm not going to survive this,'" Lo said. He quickly walked down 44 flights of stairs and made it to the ground floor.

"I was expecting to see pandemonium outside, what I saw on the first floor outside was a ghost town. Not one single person, and pure gray ash that was all outside and I was just freaked out. At that point I still did not really understand what was happening," Lo said. 

He made it out of the building and stared in disbelief as the South Tower burned.

"For several minutes, we were all just gathering and wondering what was happening," Lo said. "I heard one of the members of the New York Fire Department saying, 'Stand back, the building's not stable,' and as he said that my building — the South Tower of the World Trade Center — crumbled down and there was this big smoke plume. I had no idea what was happening, but all I knew was I had to run."

Now 41, Lo is a doctor at Montefiore Nyack Hospital and is at the center of another disaster.

"I've seen more death in several days or weeks of this virus than I've seen the last eight years," said Lo.

At the height of the pandemic, as the number of positive cases increased exponentially, Lo said it was "chaotic."

"Our numbers of patients coming in with suspected COVID were increasing daily and it was very hectic," he said. "We were trying to figure out what our role was, very quickly elective surgeries were canceled."

For Lo, an anesthesiologist who normally works on elective surgeries intubating patients, his role pivoted to caring for coronavirus patients.

"Generally there's always someone carrying the pager even without the COVID virus. That would only go off sometimes never in the day, other times once maybe twice, during the COVID-19 outbreak in the very beginning there were times we were paged eight or 10 times in one day to intubate patients and it was extremely hectic," Lo said. "I think this gives you a moment in time when you realize how crazy our world can be, how unfair our world can be. It gives you a different perspective in terms of how precious and fragile our life is, and at any moment things can go sideways, backwards for no good reason at all."

The numbers have since started to decline as New York has flattened the curve and made it past the peak.

His friends wonder how he's so unlucky, but he feels lucky to be on the front lines.

"I see how people can see it as that, but I think I have incredible luck. I feel incredibly lucky to have survived 9/11, I feel incredibly lucky to be speaking with you now healthy," he told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell. "I think things happen for a reason, I feel blessed."

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