When Jon Stewart gave an impassioned speech last week urging lawmakers to reauthorize funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, one of the retired first responders who accompanied him was Luis Alvarez, a former bomb-squad detective for the New York Police Department.
Alvarez, 53, told lawmakers that he had gone through 68 rounds of chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with a 9/11-linked cancer, with his 69th round scheduled just 24 hours later.
“I have been to many places in this world and done many things, but I can tell you that I did not want to be anywhere else but ground zero when I was there,” Alvarez told lawmakers, according to FOX 6. “Now the 9/11 illnesses have taken many of us, and we are all worried about our children, our spouses and our families and what happens if we are not here.”
He added, “I should not be here with you, but you made me come, [but] I will not stand by as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else.”
The day after Alvarez and Stewart, 56, gave their testimonies, the Judiciary Committee unanimously agreed to send the bill to the House floor for a vote, surpassing one major obstacle in the process of reauthorizing the funds.
According to show, Alvarez is a former U.S. Marine and has the NYPD radio code for a suspicious package, “10-44,” tattooed on his hands. Alvarez has had operations to remove portions of his colon, gallbladder and liver, the New York Daily News reported.
He worked for weeks at Ground Zero looking for victims and was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016.
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In an interview with the New York Daily News ahead of his appearance, Alvarez said he routinely visits legislators to help the families of other first responders who have been diagnosed with 9/11-related illnesses, just like him.
“I love to do this. I really do,” Alvarez told the New York Daily News. “It helps other guys. There are guys out there who, I don’t want to say ‘clueless,’ but really don’t know what’s going on. They don’t get it. They don’t get it until they get sick.”
More than 3,700 first responders have been diagnosed with a collection of cancers tied to exposure to the carcinogens – such as jet fuel, mercury and 400 tons of asbestos – that were released into New York City’s air during the collapse of the towers.
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Many of these first responders rushed into the toxic ash and dust that would ultimately wreak havoc on their bodies. The poisonous air would affect many firefighters, police officers, volunteers, construction workers, clergy and health professionals who arrived at the scene on the day of the attacks and the days that followed.
The last effort to continue funding for the Victim Compensation Fund came in 2015 with the passing of a five-year extension. The extension was meant to last until December 2020, but the fund announced in a February statement that claims were increasing and money was running out much more quickly than anticipated.
Of making trips to talk to lawmakers despite his frail condition, Alvarez told the Daily News, “I want my kids to know that dad did everything he could to help other police officers get through this.”