Within days, she started having trouble breathing. A runner, she couldn’t even walk briskly for more than a few blocks. Early in 2002, when she was in Hebron to cover the second Intifada, she and a fellow photographer had to run from what sounded like gunfire. She struggled to breathe, and collapsed. Vertigo kept her bedridden for two and a half days. Back in New York months later, she rushed to cover an explosion in Chelsea but ran out of breath so quickly that she knew something had to be wrong. That was followed by another Middle East trip, and the funeral of a Palestinian boy who had been shot by Israeli soldiers. “I was sobbing, and I was taking pictures at the same time, and realizing that I didn’t know if I could continue,” Leuthold says.
Her breathing problems got worse, the vertigo continued, and Leuthold realized that she had been hurt on 9/11 in ways that she was still figuring out. She felt she needed a drastic change, so in 2006 she left New York for a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse on the Maine coast. She is a landscaper there now, designing gardens and planting bulbs. She teaches photography at a local Montessori school and she still shoots, though nothing resembling hard news.
For many who responded to Handschuh’s survey, merely admitting a dust-related ailment raised the fear that it could derail their careers. Thirty percent said that their health problems had affected their careers, and about the same percentage felt that their emotional problems were interfering with their work. And here’s the key to understanding ground zero’s impact on journalists: nearly half of those who responded (45 percent) said they had been tempted to turn down an assignment that might trigger unwanted emotions. Yet only 25 percent said they had actually refused to take the assignment.
Like most 9/11 health surveys, this one suffers from its reliance on self-reported data. The exception is the New York City fire department, where each firefighter undergoes a yearly physical. That makes it possible to compare pre-9/11 and post-9/11 conditions. The results seem to support some of Handschuh’s findings. Fire-department doctors have found, for instance, that many firefighters lost in one year the amount of lung capacity that they might have been expected to lose over the course of a dozen years.
Photographer Keith Silverman is a freelance cameraman with his own video company who worked regularly with 20/20 and other abc network programs. On September 11, he was preparing to shoot the Fashion Week show at Bryant Park; when the first jet smashed into the north tower, a producer sent him to the trade center. Silverman spent that night and most of the following week videoing firefighters pulling bodies from the trade-center rubble. In all, he worked in the smoke and dust for three months without protective gear. Silverman, who is six-feet tall and weighs 260 pounds, says that it wasn’t until 2004 that he first started noticing strange skin rashes on his arms and back. At that time, he was going through a divorce and had lost his health insurance. A friend who is a nurse urged him to see a doctor about the mysterious lumps on his neck and chest. He did, and the tests came back positive for stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was forty-seven at the time. A subsequent CAT scan revealed that he also had pulmonary fibrosis.
Silverman says he didn’t expect help from ABC because he was a freelancer, and he was right. It was too late for him to file for workers’ compensation in New York. His only option was Social Security disability, but the legal process has been long and grueling. He’s been turned down twice, and is appealing his case to a judge. He’s also joined the thousands of responders who are suing the city of New York for negligence in the aftermath of 9/11.