Watch CBS News

Local 9/11 First Responder With Days Left To Live Hopes To Move Into Renovated Home With His Wife

PLEASANT HILLS, Pa. (KDKA) - High school sweethearts and 9/11 first responders Margaret and Nick Ursta have been together 35 years and on Tuesday, they are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in Jefferson Regional Hospital.

Nick has lung cancer and Margaret says his prognosis is disheartening.

"I would love to have him with me and living in our home and doing things as a couple, that's what I see," she tells KDKA's John Shumway as she holds tight to his hand.

In the toxic clouds that swirled around the base of the Twin Towers after the September 11th attacks, Nick led a group from White Oak Rescue to help.

Nick and Margaret are both EMTs and she was part of the crew.

"They needed everybody, they were calling for everybody, so we wanted to be there," Margaret recalls.

The team from White Oak drove all night and were immediately immersed in the magnitude of the tradgey.

Nick remembers driving to their assignment near the towers.

"People were jumping on the truck, like 'here, find this person for me, here.' Pictures, with their name on it, 'call me if you find this person," Nick says.

For a week they worked in the contaminated air, treating those who were doing the digging.

Nick says he never thought of his own health and safety: "They asked people to come. You know when you take an oath that's what you do, you give back, you follow that oath, whatever the risk might be."

Once back home, Nick returned to his construction work and in his spare time, he worked on rebuilding the house that would become the Ursta's home.

That is until he started getting sick in late 2017.

By the time he went to the hospital early last year, he was convinced he had pneumonia.

Nick says the doctors scanned his lungs and told him, "You have this huge mass of fluid in your lungs."

Margaret says that's when they heard the "C-word."

"As soon as they told us his cancer was due to the asbestos, we put it together right away," she says.

Nick knew it was from the air around Ground Zero. "Cause those buildings were built in the 70s and lined with nothing but asbestos," he says.

As the Ursta's battled Nick's cancer, former KDKA Reporter Marty Griffin got involved in the effort to help the Ursta's home renovations.

It was work Marty continued when he launched as he mustered a battery of volunteers and companies to donate materials and time to finish Nick's work.

Margaret has watched in awe.

"Oh my God it's amazing! All the people who came out to help us. Volunteered their time," she says.

"It's turning out gorgeous. If everything goes right, we should be in there by Saturday."

The Ursta's are hoping to celebrate their completed home when the Steelers play on Monday Night Football in a week and a half.

Nick hopes to be there.

His doctors are measuring his time in days.

And yet when he reflects on what got him here, the exposure in New York, he doesn't hesitate.

"Would I do it again? Yes," he said. "I'd step right up and do it again."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.