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9/11 first responder FDNY’s Martin Fullam’s death and the health damage the World Trade attacks cause

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First responders carry the lifeless body of Father Michael Judge from the wreckage of the World Trade Center on 9/11
First responders carry the lifeless body of Father Michael Judge from the wreckage of the
World Trade Center on 9/11

It is one of the enduring images of 9/11, the lifeless body of Father Mychal Judge carried from the dusty chaos by five men layered in debris.  This was just  before the North Tower collapsed.

Irish American NYPD Lieutenant Bill Cosgrove was among the men carrying Judge.  Cosgrove later credited Judge with posthumously saving his own life because all five of the men carrying Judge in that photo were alive on the morning of September 12, 2001.

That does not, however, mean they survived 9/11. The iconic photo by Reuters shutterbug Shannon Stapleton -- which some have said echoes great Renaissance religious painting -- features a hard-working firefighter on the far left.  His head is bowed, resigned to the grim work of carrying the FDNY’s beloved chaplain. 

He is FDNY Lieutenant Martin Fullam. Late last month, quietly, Fullam died at the age of 56, mourned by his Irish American wife, the former Patricia Kelly, and three daughters, Kelly, Emma and Caroline.

Father Judge was the first official victim of the 9/11 attacks.  Fullam is the latest.

Read more US crime news here

Fullam spent weeks at the pile looking for survivors and then remains.  Several years later he was diagnosed with polymyositis, an autoimmune disease that targets the body's muscle tissues. He was also diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in his lungs. 

“Over the course of several years, the disease weakened his muscles and ravaged his lungs to the point that he could barely perform ordinary tasks,” The Staten Island Advance newspaper reported. 

“He became tired when he walked upstairs or tried to tie his shoes. By 2006, Mr. Fullam was tethered to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day.”

To Fullam’s great credit, despite his ailments, he fought hard for the passage of the Zadroga Act which helps compensate first responders exposed to deadly toxins at Ground Zero.

The years following the 9/11 attacks have seen a slow but steady stream of deadly diagnoses -- cancers, respiratory problems and other ailments linked to service after the attacks.

Osama bin Laden is dead and the Freedom Tower is nearing completion.  And yet, families such as the Fullams and so many others across the five boroughs of New York City still watch as loved ones weaken and die much too young because of diseases contracted following the 9/11 attacks. It is like a nightmare that simply will not end.

Read more: Michael Lynch: Irish American Firefighter, 9/11 victim remembered

Similarly, just when it seems the abuse revelations emanating from the Catholic Church could not get any worse, we are presented with the files released earlier this month by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, once under the leadership of Irish American Roger Mahony.

The 12,000 documents present stark new evidence that church leadership knew about shocking levels of abuse, yet did little to ensure that abusive priests were kept away from children or put in jail.

LA’s current Archbishop Jose Gomez said, "The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children."

The next pope should take those words to heart.

Gomez later stripped Mahony of his official duties, a rare public spat between high church officials. Mahony responded, "Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices or procedures. I handed over to you an archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth."

Perhaps by the time Mahony handed the reins off to Gomez in 2011 things had improved. But as the release of these latest files show, terrible things were covered up, ignored or both in Catholic parishes across Los Angeles.

As The New York Times noted, “Over four decades, particularly under Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, parishioners in the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese repeatedly tried to alert church authorities about abusive priests in their midst, trusting that the church would respond appropriately.”

That didn’t happen. The church sex scandals as well as the attacks of 9/11 have scarred a generation and hit Irish Americans particularly hard. 

There is only thing worse than having to endure them in the first place -- the fact that there also seems to be no end in sight to the damage these traumatic events can inflict. 

(Contact Sidewalks at tdeignan.blogspot.com or tomdeignan@earthlink.net)

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