Retired New York Metropolis firefighter Lee Ielpi, 75, spent 9 months looking out by means of the rubble of Floor Zero. Searchers on the web site managed to seek out the stays of his son who had responded to the catastrophe as a member of the FDNY. Later, Lee based the one museum that existed on the 9/11 web site for greater than a decade after the assaults. Then, as he was making ready for retirement, Lee was recognized with most cancers, probably attributable to his time at Floor Zero.
A extremely adorned retired member of the Elite Particular Operations Firm, Rescue 2, Ielpi, who was awarded 24 recognitions of exemplary service, spoke to SurvivorNet about his expertise at Floor Zero after 9/11, and the most cancers he developed in his blood consequently.
Lee Ielpi, who spent 9 months digging by means of the rubble at Floor Zero, and was recognized with most cancers in 2006
In June, 2006, Lee was recognized with a type of leukemia known as Waldenstrom syndrome, which is a extremely treatable however by no means curable sort of most cancers. He additionally had seven nodules on his lungs, which weren’t cancerous although he nonetheless has to have them checked in case they develop into cancerous afterward.
Waldenstrom syndrome impacts about six instances per million individuals per 12 months in the USA.
Waldenstrom syndrome is a uncommon blood cell most cancers and a subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s characterised by an extra of irregular white blood cells within the bone marrow. These irregular cells are known as “lymphoplasmacytic cells.”
Lee has 4 kids, two boys and two ladies. Each of Lee’s sons, Jonathan and Brendan, have been each a part of the FDNY as effectively, Brendan as a probationary fireman solely 4 months into the job, and Jonathan as a fireman who had been with the division for six years.
Lee Ielpi (second from the left) as a younger member of the FDNY
The morning of 9/11
“The day began off similar to proper now right here in Florida,” Lee mentioned in an interview earlier this week. “No clouds within the sky, it was really a surprising, lovely, early fall day.”
That morning, Lee bought a cellphone name from his son Jonathan. “[Jonathan] mentioned flip the TV on, I turned it on — I noticed what all people else noticed,” Lee mentioned. “The north tower was struck. I used to be speaking to my son I mentioned ‘are you going?’ Which implies, ‘are you responding?’”
Jonathan was in a particular operations firm known as Squad 288. They’re extremely skilled above and past the common engine and truck corporations. There are six such squads within the FDNY.
Jonathan Ielpi, who died whereas responding as a firefighter with the FDNY after the assaults on 9/11
On that cellphone name Jonathan informed his dad he was going to reply, “He mentioned ‘I known as,’ which implies he known as a dispatcher telling them he desires to go, which is a component of a fireplace division custom the place you wish to go to those occasions as a result of that’s what you do. With that, a tone alert within the background, you possibly can right here it, and a dispatcher informed him ‘reply to the World Commerce Heart,’ he mentioned ‘Dad, we’re going.’ I mentioned, ‘Okay, watch out.’ He mentioned ‘Okay,’ and that was the final time I spoke to my son.”
“My son’s hearth home despatched 19 males to the world commerce middle. None of these males went residence,” Lee mentioned.
Responding at Floor Zero
Lee additionally mentioned that when he noticed the assaults had occurred, he knew he was going to reply as effectively, “I used to be retired on the time. You don’t actually retire from the New York Metropolis Fireplace Division.”
“There was a complete recall, which implies everybody has to return to their firehouses, regardless in the event you’re on trip or not,” he mentioned. “So I picked up Brendan, dropped him off at his firehouse which was proper by the bottom of the Manhattan Bridge. Now I felt like I used to be caught as a result of no one was allowed to enter Manhattan.”
However finally, Lee discovered an escort who acknowledged him, and made his method to the location, the place he would start his 9 months of looking out at Floor Zero. “It will be straightforward to only go Helter Skelter,” he mentioned concerning the second he arrived on the web site, “however that’s not the best way you do issues. I figured I’m gonna begin looking out proper right here, anybody I discover it’ll be a blessing for that household, if I discover my son it’ll be a complete blessing.”
As laborious because it was to look, Lee mentioned that seeing his household was actually laborious as effectively, “Going residence was very troublesome. The home was full of individuals, relations, mates, neighbors, and I had nothing good to report, so I made a dedication that I’m going to be going to the sight day by day till I, God keen, discovered my son.”
The Band of Dads
Ultimately, Lee shaped a gaggle with another firefighters on the lookout for their kids, “I went day by day and met up with a bunch of dads. We grew to become referred to as the band of dads. There have been about eight of us that simply met day by day on the identical spot, hoping this could be the day.”
Jonathan Ielpi’s FDNY turnout coat
And the group labored methodically to assist one another look by means of the destruction, “We might cut up up and go into the sight. We got carte blanche by the hearth division, and all of us had our personal handy-talkies, walkie-talkies, and we went to work. If any individual known as that they discovered the stays of firemen, one of many band of dads would go over, god keen it could be one of many sons.”
Till finally, one night time after looking out, Lee bought a name that his son had been discovered, “I went residence. About eleven o’clock the cellphone rang, it was a deputy chief that I do know very effectively — I knew he wasn’t calling me simply to move the time of day. He mentioned Lee now we have Jonathan. So I went again into the location with my son Brendan.”
Lee Ielpi in entrance of the 9/11 Tribute Heart, which he co-founded after the assaults
Lee described the scene when he bought again to the location to seek out his son, “Jonathan was in a stokes basket, with a flag over him. Paul got here as much as me and mentioned ‘Lee he’s all there,’ along with his hand on my shoulder. I went over to my son Jonathan who was within the basket, and I did what I needed to do. I wasn’t about to open up the physique bag. However I felt him from his toes to his head. Stated a number of phrases to him. Brendan came visiting to him and did what he needed to do along with his brother.”
“After which within the custom of the hearth division, we stock out our personal,” he mentioned.
He additionally talked concerning the strategy of getting Jonathan by means of the location, “There have been some firefighters there from Squad 288, so Brendan and myself and the fellows from 288, we picked up the stokes basket, we picked up Jonathan, we introduced him to this horrible roadway going into the location, the chaplain within the entrance, all people’s lining up on the highway on all sides — that’s all people, all work stops, in order that’s development staff, engineers.”
And mentioned that he needed to indicate how a lot gratitude he had for everybody working on the web site, “The captain offers a sign that we’re prepared to come back up, all people offers a hand salute, and we carried Jonathan up the hill. I used to be in a position to look up on the guys who have been hand saluting, I smiled in any respect of them simply to allow them to know I’m saying thanks to all you guys.”
Jonathan Ielpi, lee’s son, who responded with Squad 288 throughout 9/11
The Fortunate One
Earlier than Jonathan died, he informed Lee that if he ever died within the line of responsibility, he needed to close down the city of Nice Neck the place their household lived on Lengthy Island. “Effectively, Jonathan shut it down twice,” Lee mentioned, “One was the memorial service, and one was the day we really had him residence and have been in a position to bury him on the town, and have been in a position to bury him on the town about two blocks away from the place we dwell.”
However after they discovered Jonathan, Lee says knew he wasn’t finished at Floor Zero, “From that time on, I continued going to the location, as a result of it wouldn’t be proper that I mainly mentioned ‘I’ve mine,’ to the remainder of the band of dads, ‘I hope you discover yours.’ So I went again day by day for the rest, spent 9 months in restoration work, working for the dads, hopefully.”
Lee considers himself to be one of many fortunate ones, of these affected that day, “Out of the eight dads, I used to be the one who was blessed to deliver mine residence. The opposite dads, no one was as lucky as me.”
Lee Ielpi and Jennifer Adams-Webb, who co-founded the 9/11 Tribute Heart
And praised the best way everybody on the web site revered these they have been on the lookout for, “I labored with one of the best of one of the best of what the great Lord gave us. It was a really highly effective, significant 9 months of restoration. The respect that was proven to the stays day one was the identical 9 months later.”
Psychological results of 9/11
Lee mentioned that whereas there are definitely psychological results of 9/11 for individuals who have been concerned, they haven’t gotten in the best way of his residing a wholesome life, “After all I’ve ideas of 9/11 and the times I labored there, in fact I’ve. Does it drive me to drink? No. Medication? By no means have I even taken a breath of marijuana. No.”
He mentioned that being emotional concerning the day could be very regular for him, “Do I give it some thought? Sure. Do I’ve instances once I cry? Sure. Am I gonna cry once I go to Texas to talk with a number of hundred individuals? Sure.”
“However the good Lord mentioned I’m gonna be okay, and I’m okay,” he mentioned.
The 9/11 Customer’s Heart
A girl named Jennifer Adams-Webb approached Lee and requested if he needed to work on a middle the place individuals might study concerning the occasion, “And naturally, I believed she was drunk, however she was lifeless severe. And we did. It was known as the 9/11 Tribute Heart — it was a spot for household to come back and guests, however primarily household,” Lee mentioned.
Wall of images contained in the 9/11 Tribute Heart
He mentioned that on the middle, individuals who skilled the occasion are in a position to inform their tales and move on their data of what occurred to the remainder of the world, “Who higher to provide a tour than any individual who skilled 9/11, whether or not it was a member of the family, or fireman, cop, rescue staff, volunteers?”
“We’ve skilled effectively over 900 docents and guides, who do excursions for those who come to the location, that wish to study, wish to perceive, need their kids to grasp,” mentioned Lee.
Details about Waldenstrom syndrome
Waldenstom syndrome normally impacts adults, and is primarily discovered within the bone marrow, though lymph nodes and the spleen could also be concerned as effectively.
On this illness, lymphoma cells develop within the bone marrow, blocking the expansion of regular cells. Because of this, sufferers can develop anemia (low ranges of purple blood cells), neutropenia (low ranges of white blood cells known as neutrophils), and thrombocytopenia (low ranges of platelets).
Whereas Waldenstrom lymphoma just isn’t a curable illness, however it’s treatable and a many individuals reply to remedy for a very long time.
Signs of Waldenstrom might embody bleeding (notably of the nostril and gums), complications, dizziness, double imaginative and prescient, tiredness, night time sweats, ache or numbness within the extremities, and elevated measurement of the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. For some sufferers, there will not be any signs in any respect.
For sufferers with out signs, docs will generally resolve to not deal with the illness instantly, opting as a substitute to “watch and wait.” In some instances, this could final for a few years. For sufferers who do have signs, these signs assist to find out the remedy path.
Some sufferers bear a process known as “plasmapheresis” to quickly reverse or stop the signs related to the thickening of the blood. Throughout this process, docs take away blood from the sufferers, move it by means of a machine that eliminated a particular antibody, after which return the blood to the affected person. Physicians additionally mix this remedy with chemotherapy.
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Zara Sternberg is a journalist and author for SurvivorNet. Learn Extra