Taking care of selfless, courageous people becomes 'part of you,' Dr. Benjamin Luft told 60 Minutes Overtime.
Two former officers who responded to 9/11 in 2001 are not giving up on their duty to serve others, even after retirement. Bruno Valenti retired from the NYPD in 2011 after 20 years in uniform and Stephen Lengyel retired from the NYPD in 2012 after nearly 22 years on the job. They now help sick and injured 9/11 survivors and first responders over two decades since the tragedy as part of Dr. Benjamin Luft's pro bono service: the Stony Brook Medicine World Trade Center Health and Wellness Program. According to the program's website, it promises to offer comprehensive, integrative healthcare for 9/11-related conditions for WTC disaster responders. Member-centered care is of utmost importance to create "an enduring support community, advocacy for our 9/11 responders, and cutting-edge research."
Twenty-two years ago, our city was changed forever. The NYPD lost 23 members, @fdny lost 343 members, @PANYNJ lost 37 members, and we continue to lose more due to 9/11 illnesses. pic.twitter.com/6cHr9UFVM8— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) September 11, 2023
"I think that once you begin to take care of a remarkable group of people who are so altruistic, so courageous, so giving, it becomes part of you," Luft told 60 Minutes Overtime, reports CBS News. "Actually, you become a better person, as a result of that."
Over the years, as he has treated many 9/11 survivors and first responders, Luft has learned that many survivors have been diagnosed with ailments associated with the toxins that have been found in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Luft discovered that one of the latest ailments is cancer, adding that its latency period can be anywhere from 20 to 30 years. "To be heroic, is not for free," Luft said. "There's a piece of them that they left behind, you know, at 9/11... And this is something that they live with."
9/11 first responders who dug through the rubble at the World Trade Center site may be facing a higher risk of dementia. The Daily News says the findings come from two studies of first responders by researchers at Stony Brook University: pic.twitter.com/FW2c1Yzcqs— Spectrum News NY1 (@NY1) July 28, 2020
Valenti, the now-retired New York Police sergeant, works as a nurse practitioner at the Stony Brook Medicine World Trade Center Health and Wellness Program on Long Island. He performs routine tests on patients as part of the program. He said, "There are times when I'll walk out of a patient's room and just say to myself, 'I'm lucky.' No matter how bad I think my day is and where it's going, it could be a lot worse. So there are times where you stop and think."
Lengyel also works at the office as a registered nurse. "To see an old acquaintance is always good," said Lengyel. "And at the same time, to interact with these people, I understand kind of what they're going through, some of them. I was down there that day myself… I understand the health part of it. And, you know, we just try to take care of everybody as best we can."
Recalling their time at the site of the horrific tragedy, one thing stood out for Valenti, who was in shock when he went to help with the cleanup at ground zero. "I remember when we arrived, it was dark as we came out of the Battery Tunnel, looking to see all the smoke and then arriving at the site of the collapse, it was a surreal experience," said Valenti. "You looked at it and you thought, 'This can't be happening.'"
The former officer said he joined the "bucket brigade" on top of the pile where evidence was collected, but he couldn't help but notice something magnificent amid this chaos. "I think the beauty... was looking around and seeing how many people, civilians, were on the outskirts and some were in helping as well, but how many people were on the outside with bottles of water, just trying to help in any way they can," said Valenti. "And I think that was a moment that really captured the amount of good in the world versus evil, and you realize that the world is really made up of good people that want to help. And, you know, someday we will overcome the evil."