“They were there for us, we ought to be there for them,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens and Manhattan) on Tuesday, as she prepared to board a plane to Washington, DC to fight for surviving victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In a last-ditch effort to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would provide funding to first responders and their families, Maloney said she plans to attach it to tax legislation agreed to by the president and Republican congressional leadership. It is her hope that after eight years of amendments, the bill would gain the 60 Senate votes needed to mend the wounds of thousands.
For Middle Village resident Patricia Kalbouros and her family, in many ways it is too late.
Last Thursday, she watched as members of the NYPD’s Ceremonial Unit carried her brother’s casket to Calvary Cemetery in Long Island City. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stood by as Detective Kevin Czartoryski, 46, of Maspeth was lowered into the ground. Only days earlier, Czartoryski had tried to sit up to salute the commissioner, who had come to visit him at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital.
“It was really touching and emotional,” recalled Kalbouros.
A liaison between the commissioner and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community, Czartoryski suffocated in a hospital bed after losing his years-long battle with 9/11-related health complications. He is the 30th member of the NYPD to die of such illnesses after the attacks.
His ordeal included multiple medications, a lung transplant, a virus and finally, cancer. “If you would have told me that it would end up like this, I never would have believed you,” Kalbouros said.
Czartoryski’s battle began in 2008. He went for a physical because he was thinking of retiring and was told that he had pulmonary fibrosis. “The doctor says to Kevin, ‘I am really impressed with you but not in a good way. You are sitting there, and you are not gasping for air. We thought our machine had to be recalibrated because you are breathing at 50 percent capacity,’” Kalbouros recounted.
Before that day, Czartoryski had no symptoms, but doctors found that scar tissue had developed in his lungs from inhaling dust at the World Trade Center site, where he sifted through the rubble to identify bodies.
“He was there when they pulled up a fire truck that had the firemen dead inside it,” Kalbouros said.“He didn’t talk about it much afterwards. I think it was very traumatic.”
This year, Czartoryski was told he needed a new lung. It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to breathe. According to Kalbouros, this news brought with it a host of new problems. In order to even be considered for a lung transplant, Czartoryski had to be able to pay around $6,000 each month for medication associated with the procedure. The Detective’s Endowment Association had a cap of $11,000 per year in prescription drug benefits. Luckily, there was a caveat in his health plan that allowed him to switch insurance providers so he could find one to cover his treatment.
“The medications were a big thing, because you can’t get listed if you can’t pay for the drugs,” Kalbouros said. “If he were in kidney failure, you get Medicare right away, but if you need lung transplants, you have to wait two years before your Medicare benefits kick in.”
“It’s terrible to say, but it’s almost as if the federal government hopes that you die.”
Though patriotic, waiting for the Zadroga bill to pass has helped dampen Kalbouros’ enthusiasm for the nation’s leaders. “We can’t do this for our own people? It’s just pathetic,” she said.
According to Maloney, 429 of the nation’s 435 congressional districts are home to people sick with 9/11-related illness. Around 36,000 people have received treatment and 17,000 more are on active medical monitoring and may develop illnesses as time progresses. The Zadroga bill could help them pay for healthcare and could have helped Czartoryski cover the cost of his medications without paying for a new health plan. It also could help compensate people like Kalbouros who missed work to take care of her brother.
“If it takes us, you the press, ordinary citizens to wake up and open their eyes, if my bother is the sacrificial lamb, his passing is not in vain,” said Kalbouros regarding passage of the Zadroga bill.
The $7.4 billion legislation would be paid for by what proponents describe as closing tax loopholes for multinational corporations. Some Republicans say that would amount to a tax increase for companies that provide jobs for Americans. Some Republicans say the Zadroga bill should not be passed at all.
In an op-ed piece in the New York Daily News on Sunday, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) wrote that while the bill is well intentioned, he is unsure that the money would go to the right people. He called the bill “unprecedented” and lambasted efforts to pass it before the end of the year. However, according to Maloney, once newly elected Republicans claim the House majority, the bill has little chance of passing.
Czartoryski’s family is part of a settlement between around 10,000 people and the agencies responsible for cleanup after 9/11. Though they have not yet received it, they will likely see some compensation for their loss.
“But what about people who aren’t part of the settlement? What are they going to do?” Kalbouros asked. A fund set up to compensate victims closed in 2003. The only thing that people who find themselves sick now can do is sue.
“We should be embarrassed. It’s a disgrace we had money to get the banks out of debt but not for these people,” Kalbouros said.
In early November, Czartoryski’s family found out he had lung cancer that had spread to his stomach and his bones. It seemed to have developed rapidly, as he tested negative in August. The transplanted lung had given him a virus and he was not producing red blood cells, so he had to be taken to the hospital frequently for blood transfusions. He had one round of chemotherapy and went home, later complaining that he couldn’t breathe.
He was then taken to the hospital in acute respiratory distress. “I was his proxy. If there was a chance that he was going to live he wanted to take it,” said Kalbouros. “If he had to be on a respirator and have a tracheotomy, he didn’t want to live, because that’s not life.”
His condition worsened, and it became clear that drastic measures would have to be taken to keep him alive. He was placed on a respirator — he could still talk, but he was confined to the intensive care unit. It was clear Kalbouros needed to discuss his final wishes.
“My brother didn’t want to talk about death but he had a sense of humor,” Kalbouros said. “You know how Queens Boulevard is the Boulevard of Death? So he said, ‘If I say ‘I want to cross Queens Boulevard,’ you have to let me go. If I say ‘I want to walk Queens Boulevard, I will stay and fight.’”
“So I asked him, ‘Do you want to cross Queens Boulevard?’ He shook his head yes.”
Slowly, his respirator was turned down, and on Dec. 5, with his family by his side, Czartoryski died.
Czartoryski was the youngest child in his family. He is survived by his older brother, Robert Czartoryski of Michigan, his sister Diane Ballek of Long Island City, his sister Carol Motyka of Brentwood, LI and Kalbouros. Two nephews, Brian Motyka and Dimitrios Kalbouros, have followed in Czartoryski’s footsteps and joined the NYPD.
Czartoryski’s badge hangs in Washington, DC with those of other officers who have died of 9/11 health complications. It is Kalbouros’ hope that senators will pass the Zadroga bill, so that first responders and families from all states and all walks of life will have the chance to receive the healthcare and recognition they deserve.
“I don’t want my brother’s passing to be in vain,” Kalbouros said. “If it’s consolation that the bill gets passed, I feel very good about it, because my personal thing is, if I only knew why God would do this.”