Bernadette Healey, a downtown pension worker during the Sept. 11 attacks who suffers from lung disease, is still dumbfounded 20 years later that the World Trade Center towers collapsed before her eyes.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. I can’t believe it happened — but it did,” Healey said.
“I remember what I wore: a black dress with red roses and black sandals. My hair was in a ponytail.”
Healey was employed as a benefits examiner for the New York City Teachers Retirement System, which was then located at 220 Church St., aka 40 Worth St. — right near the World Trade Center.
She worked on the 14th floor.
“We saw the second plane hit the south tower. We saw people fall out of windows,” she recalled.
Healey, now 81, a Staten Island resident at the time, said it was an odyssey to get home.
Employees were evacuated and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to safety.
“It was the scariest thing in my life. We were walking up to our ankles in ash,” she said
But Healey had to go back to Manhattan to catch the Staten Island Ferry because the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn to the island was closed to vehicular traffic.
The ferry captain got on the loudspeaker to tell shell-shocked commuters to move to the other side of the boat to level the weight. Nearly everyone was on the harbor side of the boat staring at the smoldering disaster in lower Manhattan.
Healey, who retired in 2002, is now grappling with a variety of health ailments, like thousands of other first responders, office workers and residents exposed to World Trade Center contaminations.
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A non-smoker, she developed “smoker’s cough” and was diagnosed with emphysema/lung disease and lymphoma. She underwent six months of grueling hemotherapy.
She is enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program and has received a medical award from the Sept. 11 Victims Compensation Fund.
Now living in New Jersey, Healey, like many other sick 9/11 survivors, has no doubt that breathing toxic air and inhaling contaminants from the twin towers’ collapse caused or contributed mightily to her medical ailments.
“The air was very heavy down there. It was like walking into a fog,” she said.
“I didn’t have any medical problems before 9/11. I started with a cough and then I was always tired.”
She now travels with a supply of oxygen because of her labored breathing and doesn’t go out during days when there is a high humidity or inclement weather.
Attorney Michael Barasch, whose Barasch & McGarry firm helped process medical claims for Healey, said only ten percent of eligible residents or workers eligible for Sept. 11 benefits have applied for benefits.