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9/11 Remembered: For Surviving First Responders, COVID Pandemic Presents Special Challenges

BELLMORE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - On the 19th anniversary of the terror attacks, the first responders who ran to help that day are suffering new medical challenges.

COVID-19 has not only claimed lives, it has also brought isolation for many of them due to their vulnerable medical conditions.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reports, COVID-19 hit Robert Ostrofsky's family fast, and unimaginably hard.

"My wife's father Frank passed away on March 27th from COVID. Seven days later my wife's mother Marie, she passed away from COVID and two days after that I lost my father to COVID," Ostrofksy said. "I lost three parents in nine days."

PHOTOS: Remembering 9/11 In A Year Like No Other

Nine days of hell, followed by months of isolation. Ostrofsky, a firefighter who ran to help on 9/11 then spent two weeks sifting through the poisonous pile, now has lung lesions.

"I don't know how COVID would affect me if I did get the virus, and that kind of debilitated me staying at home," Ostrofsky said.


His own losses from COVID remind him of the devastating days after 9/11.

"Losing three parents like that, I felt like the world was crumbling down around my head," Ostrofsky said. "I can compare it to 9/11. I don't like to do that, but it was horrific."

For Ostrofsky and other first responders, the pandemic has added a new layer of sacrifice.

Some are like Rob Serra, so medically compromised he hasn't left the house much in six months. Others have missed vital health screenings.

"I'm worried. We've have had a slew of deaths this week alone," Serra said.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Serra is on the board of the Ray Pfeifer Foundation, which help pays uncovered medical costs. Serra says there's no official count of how many 9/11 first responders have died of COVID-19, but fears a spike in deaths because so many have missed vital cancer screenings because of the pandemic.

"Our cancers are aggressive. The doctors have said they are like cancers on steroids," Serra said. "I know people who were healthy and ran the New York City Marathon in November, and then by March they died of lung cancer."

Nineteen years after their selfless acts, they continue to pay an immeasurable price.

9/11 REMEMBERED: New Yorkers Looking To Recapture Sense Of Unity That Swept Nation In Aftermath Of Tragedy

"It's important to remember 9/11 because of how this country came together that day and days after, and how we came together and we healed together.  And we need that, we need that in this country right now," Ostrofsky said.

Ostrofsky says 9/11 taught him to do the right thing and value every day - especially now.

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