WTC Cop Exposed To Toxic Dust Needs A New Lung Or He Will Die

New lung or WTC cop dies
Officer stricken after months at Ground Zero



Eva Borja cannot talk to her husband because he is heavily sedated.

Eva and their children (from l.), Ceasar, 21, Nhia, 12, and Evan, 16, are hoping for a miracle.

His family says Cesar Borja did not wear a respirator at Ground Zero because feds said the air was safe to breathe.

Under a jumble of gray wires and clear plastic tubes, Cesar Borja lies unconscious. A nurse checks the monitor at his bedside. The skin on his neck twitches.

Borja is in critical condition with pulmonary fibrosis, kept under sedation, unable to speak even if a breathing tube weren't in his mouth. His eyes are closed.

Beneath the medical hardware that keeps him alive, Borja, 52, still has a handsome, rugged face, topped with the short, spiky hair of a former soldier who never missed a day of work in his 20 years as a city cop.

But everything changed when the World Trade Center fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Borja, a father of three from Bayside, Queens, volunteered to work months of 16-hour shifts in the rubble, breathing in clouds of toxic dust.

He filed his retirement papers two years later, about the time he started coughing. A fast-acting disease was crawling through his chest, squeezing his every breath, filling his lungs with scar tissue.

Unless he gets a lung transplant, Borja will die.

"When I see him, I just want him back home," said his daughter Nhia, 12. "My dad is so caring for everyone, and it's just so hard to see him like this, because he doesn't deserve this at all."

At least four other Ground Zero workers have died of pulmonary fibrosis, in which the lungs react to foreign particles by covering them over with scar tissue.

Borja's family is convinced he caught the disease in the line of duty. And although doctors say they can't definitively blame his illness on the air at Ground Zero, scientists are probing for a connection.

"He says, 'I know I got it from there, because a lot of people are dying from it,'" his wife, Eva, 47, said as she waited near his bed in Mount Sinai Medical Center's intensive care unit.

"No doubt for me," she said. "Reading about all these people who have been dying, it has to be a delayed reaction."

Borja was working at an NYPD auto pound in Queens when the twin towers fell. He rushed to Ground Zero and started working long days there - even volunteering to work extra shifts.

Borja is a quiet and reserved man, who rarely talked with his wife and three children about what he saw in his five months at Ground Zero.

But like thousands of other workers, his family said, Borja never wore a respirator - because he believed the Environmental Protection Agency's assurances that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe.

"He said, 'No, I never thought of it. They said in the news that the air was good, so I believed it,'" his wife said. "He's not a complainer. He will do his duty."

An estimated 12,000 of the 40,000 workers who labored in the toxic cloud of Ground Zero to help rescue and rebuild are afflicted with breathing problems.

Soon after Borja retired in 2003, he developed a cough that wouldn't go away. He had smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for years, but his family said he stopped at least five years ago.

He blamed the cough on allergies. He popped endless cough drops. Finally, his family persuaded him to go see a doctor - who diagnosed him with asthma.

But Borja's health got worse, with his breathing so shallow that he could barely walk.

The Daily News exposed the plight of thousands of World Trade Center workers with similar problems last summer - and pushed for new laws that will give help to those who desperately need it.

Borja avidly read stories about the victims and the laws, his wife said, and learned that Mount Sinai runs a health screening program for World Trade Center workers. Last fall, he made an appointment there.

Soon, Mount Sinai doctors diagnosed him with pulmonary fibrosis - an unexplained illness in which scar tissue builds up in the lungs, crowding out healthy cells and slowly choking its victims.

Mount Sinai transplant doctor Maria Padilla said she has seen several pulmonary fibrosis patients who worked at the Trade Center site.

"Fibrosis is a reaction [by] the lung to any form of injury," Padilla said. "There's no question that there are a number of patients ... with this disease who had Ground Zero exposure. Whether one has led to the other, I don't know if we can say."

Borja is fighting pneumonia and a bacterial infection that he caught after taking drugs that weakened his immune system. If the infections clear up, he can get on the lung transplant waiting list.

"His chances of survival without the lung transplant are very slight," Padilla said.

Eva Borja will soon file paperwork to seek an increased pension for her husband, based on his disability. But they blame no one for his fate.

"We are not the type who want to blame," Eva Borja said. "People make mistakes."


I'm guessing they don't do live-donor transplants of the lung. Am I right?

I hope everyone has "anatomical donor" on their driver's licenses.

I hope everytime someone sees one of....

....these stories in the press, they will post it never hurts to be reminded of this....along with the lives lost on the planes, in the buildings, and in the invasions that followed.

Thanks Jon.

My hero Jon is a star in the

My hero Jon is a star in the movies