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Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Special Challenge For Ill 9/11 First Responders

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - There was a show of respect Thursday for a first responder who lost his battle with 9/11-related illnesses last week.

There can not be a proper funeral right now, and that's not the only challenge 9/11 first responders are facing due to the pandemic.

It's not the hero's goodbye anyone wanted for the FDNY's Paul Greco, who succumbed last week to his 9/11-related illnesses, reported CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff. There's no public funeral service or eulogy.

The once-strapping marathon runner who worked on the poisonous pile at Ground Zero struggled for years.


"9/11 has never gone away. It just rears its ugly head," said retired FDNY member Howie Scott.

It's a thought never far from anyone who ran to the fallen Twin Towers to help. It was Rob Serra's first day on the job with the FDNY. At only 40, he's plagued with illness.

"I know my immune system is compromised, my respiratory system is compromised, so I can't get a respiratory virus," he said.

So he's been isolating in his Staten Island basement.

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

"I haven't left the house since the first week in March," he said. "I tried to avoid my kids and my wife, obviously, because she had to deal with the kids."

Serra, who is on the board of the Ray Pfeifer Foundation, which helps with medical costs, says those with 9/11-related diseases are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and also missing important health screenings.

"They're not getting treatments they need, and not getting screened for illnesses they may not even know they have yet," Serra said. "These cancers are aggressive, early diagnosis is our primary chance of survival."

While proper respects can not be paid right now, Serra says there is one way to honor our 9/11 heroes.

"They went to war on our own land, in New York City or at the Pentagon. These people are sick, they can't risk getting this virus, so to ask someone to put a mask on, I don't think it's asking that much," he said.

Once New York opens, Serra says he'll have to stay in his basement in quarantine because he can't take the risk of fighting COVID-19 now too.

"And my kids are paying the price, too. You don't get this time back," he said.

Almost 20 years after 9/11, our heroes are still sacrificing.

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