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Anne Marie Principe
(from testimony before the New York City Council)


I am a resident of New Jersey, and I own a modeling agency that is located in Manhattan. At the time of the attacks, my office was about three blocks from the World Trade Center.

On September 11th, I was standing in front of my building on Greenwich Street when the first airplane hit the towers. We heard the aircraft hit. We did not see it. We thought it was an accident.

Then we saw the second airplane come around and fly straight into the second tower. The sky was filled with thousands of papers and pieces of glittering debris. At some point the buildings looked like they were shimmering and melting in the sunlight—then we heard and felt something like a freight train under our feet and we realized the building was coming down.

We began to run through the street. A black cloud filled with ash and dust chased us as we ran.

I do not know how long it took me to get to the ferry that took me out of Manhattan. When I reached the other side of the river, it took me hours to find and reach my family. I could not catch my breath. I felt that my lungs were being crushed. Even with the tranquilizers my doctor gave me, my whole body shook for two days.

I went back in the next day to see was left of my building and my neighborhood. Armed Military escorted me into my building where we walked up the stairs in the dark.

Dust and smoke covered everything. We had no phones, intermittent electric, we were not allowed to bring our vehicles in and no pedestrian traffic could come in. And yet I went in every day somehow still believing that somehow we would recover.

As the site continued to smoke and burn, we were directed to leave our air conditioners off and to seal or close our windows. No matter how tightly you sealed the windows, every morning there would be a fine layer of ash and dust.

Every day that I went back in, I became more ill. I could no longer breathe without steroids, inhalers, and nebulizers. I used my rescue inhaler as much as three times a day. It left me with tremors and chest pains.

I lost my voice by midday, every day. As time passed, my health began to fail in rapid stages. I could no longer walk very far; I had persistent and recurring respiratory episodes, many ending with emergency room visits to get me breathing again.

I could no longer function on a daily basis. I could not work anymore. I could not go out without portable air purifiers, nebulizers and eventually oxygen.

I did not want anyone to see me in that condition. I saw the fear in my friends and colleagues faces and I was terrified by their silent acceptance of what they believed to be the inevitable. I would sit up at night suffocating from the mucous in my lungs, fighting for every breath.

I saw how my family looked at me, in particular, my seven year old daughter who would sit up with me at night to reassure me and herself that I would still be there in the morning. I wondered what she would remember of me.

I could not and did not want to sleep. I was afraid I would not wake up. When I did sleep, I was haunted by nightmares of planes crashing and burning buildings falling on me.

By December of 2002, I was on oxygen and countless meds. I could barely walk because I could not breathe. One morning I tried to get out of bed and found I could not stand up. My joints in my hands and legs were curled in and covered with a hot, raised rash. I could not get enough air to hold a conversation without coughing or completely losing my voice.

I went to the ER. They had no idea what to do. They released me and told me to see my own Doctor the next morning. When I went in to see my physician, I was barely breathing. My right lung was not inflating and the left lung was functioning at 38 to 42% capacity WITH over fourteen medicines.

He stood in the hallway outside the examination room and said, “What does she want from me? I don’t know what to do for her. Tell her to make an appointment and come back another day.” I knew then that he did not think that I could be helped.

Another doctor at Columbia believed there was one surgery that I might be able to get some relief with, but it would require placing a steel bar inside my chest to create more room for my lungs to expand. It was risky at best, given the current state of my health.

I went one last time to my office to tell my partner and friend that I would probably not be returning to work. I ran into a colleague on the street, who saw me with my mask and oxygen and directed me a special facility where they were treating the fire and rescue personnel. It was called the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project.

I began the program under strict doctor supervision and with great care. I could barely walk when I first got there. Within weeks I was gradually coming off the meds. I started to look and feel stronger and more emotionally stable.

As I regained my health, I regained my drive and determination. It was not always easy and sometimes it was so difficult I just wanted to give-up. But then I realized that is exactly what the terrorists wanted. The ones they did not get that day would eventually succumb to physical or mental illness.

By the second month I could walk very briskly and climb stairs and even jog on the treadmill for short periods of time. This was a miracle for my family and me! It was such a joy and pleasure to be able to play with my six-year-old daughter again. For the first time in almost 2 years, I was taking care of my family and not the other way around.

I began to breathe like a normal human being again. I slept much better! I was no longer angry or moody. My physical and mental state improved at least 80%. My energy went from less than zero to more than enough! I still cough when it’s really humid or there is an ozone alert, but that I can deal with.

I appreciate the fact that it is a political nightmare to address the vast repercussions of this unprecedented toxic exposure. But it is criminal to dismiss and leave untreated all those who were and will be become ill because of the massive levels of toxins released from the site.

There are some answers out there, and a very special treatment program that has changed so many of our lives.


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