World Trade Center first responders with neuropathy – a painful neurological disorder that affects the nerves in the legs, back, feet, arms and hands – can rest assured that a campaign is underway advocating for the condition to be added to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act, thanks to recent research conducted at NYU Winthrop- University Hospital.
“We have to help these people. We owe them that,” said Marc Wilkenfeld, MD, Chief of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at NYU Winthrop, one of the lead authors of a recent study that found first responders and survivors of the World Trade Center disaster experience symptoms of neuropathy at a rate more than 15 times higher than the normal rate. Neuropathy is currently not among the list of conditions that are covered under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act – a law that provides continued funding for health- care programs treating those affected by the 9/11 events for the next 75 years.
First responders suffering with neuropathy joined with Mark Stecker, MD, PhD, Chairman of Neurosciences (right), and Marc Wilkenfeld, MD, Chief of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (second from right), at a press conference to discuss the findings of their recent study which found World Trade Center first responders to be more than 15 times more likely to have symptoms of the debilitating neurological condition.
Dr. Wilkenfeld and Mark Stecker, MD, Phd, NYU Winthrop’s Chairman of Neurosciences, coauthors of the study published in the January edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, along with several first responders whose lives have been directly impacted by the condition, recently gathered to share their stories at a press conference held at NYU Winthrop.
“For many World Trade Center first responders who were exposed to the toxic brew of chemicals present during the rescue and recovery efforts following 9/11, a host of medical conditions are the unfortunate result of their heroic efforts,” said Dr. Wilkenfeld, who is committed to advocating for and providing the very best medical care to many first responders.
When Dr. Wilkenfeld noticed over the years that many of his patients were suffering with neuropathy, he approached Dr. Stecker and the two devised a study to examine these observations further. Their first study took nerves from rats and exposed them to dust from the 9/11 recovery site. The results, published in 2014, demonstrated that expo- sure to the dust indeed damaged the rats’ nerves. Yet, they knew this was not enough evidence to persuade the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to include neuropathy as a cov- ered condition under the Zadroga Act. So, the NYU Winthrop physicians took their research a step further, looking at 255 people with neuropathic symptoms, approximately half of whom were not exposed to the World Trade Center site.
“In our study, those exposed to the World Trade Center disaster were more than 15 times more likely than those who were not exposed to have symptoms of neuropathy,” said Dr. Stecker. “This effect could not be explained by the presence of age or any other medical factor such as diabetes or B12 deficiency. These findings could also not be explained by depression or the lack of well-being.”
“The study we performed as follow-up indeed shows elevated rates of neuropathy symptoms in World Trade Center responders,” said Dr. Wilkenfeld. “As was the case with changes in the law to add cancers as a covered condition, we believe that our responder heroes suffering from neuropathy deserve to have their condition recognized as being due to their exposures to the toxic dust.”
According to first responder John Feal, President of the FealGood Foundation, and an advocate for first responders, “In 2010, we passed a bill without cancer, and a year later, cancer was added. In 2015, we passed a bill without neuropathy. I promise you all that we will advocate and fight with the same energy as we did in 2010 to get neuropathy added to the James Zadroga Health & Compensation Act.”
For more information about NYU Winthrop’s research in the area of neuropathy, call 1-866-WINTHROP or visit www.winthrop.org.