NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Those who survived the 9/11 attacks or assisted in the cleanup afterwards often worry about related illnesses that may arise years later, and in the era of COVID-19, that stress is heightened.
Nineteen years ago, in the aftermath of the terror attacks, Victoria Burton met her husband, Michael Hankins. She was a police officer and he was a fire marshal and the two were introduced to one another at Ground Zero.
“Just to be able to meet someone in the midst of all that chaos,” she says was unexpected.
Her husband eventually developed 9/11-related reflux but, was otherwise healthy at the age of 69.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic struck New York State in mid-March.
Amid the surge in coronavirus cases throughout the city and state, Hankins was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with the virus as well.
The couple was hopeful he would recover, but just a few days after being admitted to the hospital, Burton received a phone call.
“He was in septic shock, he had double pneumonia – and that I should pray for him,” she said.
Burton says her husband was heathy and happy, so she was shocked to hear the news.
“He was living the life he wanted to live as a retiree. He was officiating sports,” she explains.
Hankins died on April 2 – and, like countless others, he was unfortunately alone.
“Everything about COVID is just so horrible for the families, I mean, you can’t be with your loved ones,” Burton said.
She says this 9/11 will be especially painful without Hankins.
John Mormando, who lives in Bergen County and worked in Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11, faced a similar fear when COVID struck.
The 53-year-old suffers from a compromised immune system due to a 9/11-related illness and was diagnosed with coronavirus shortly into the pandemic.
“It was quite scary,” he explains.
While he recovered, he says the trauma still remains.
“9/11 is fresh in my mind, it might be 19 years ago for everybody else, but for me it’s every day,” Mormando explains.