A talk with Benjamin J. Luft, M.D.

7 September, 2011

September 6, 2011 marks the publication date for one of the most important books this agency has helped to bring into being.  WE’RE NOT LEAVING: 9/11 Responders Tell Their Stories of Courage, Sacrifice and Renewal, Edited by Benjamin J. Luft, M.D. A compilation of powerful first-person narratives, it is told from the vantage point of WTC disaster workers–police officers, firefighters, construction workers, and other volunteers at the site.

Benjamin J. Luft, M.D. is the Edmund D. Pellegrino Professor of Medicine at SUNY Stony Brook and a native New Yorker. He was inspired to establish the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program which provides care to more than 6,000 disaster responders.

Joelle:  What inspired you to write this book?

Ben: “This book emerged from the confluence of two journeys that each began on September 11, 2001.  One was the journey my colleagues and I embarked upon that morning when as Chairman at Stony Brook Medical School on Long Island, I gathered together a medical team that stood ready to treat what we expected to be droves of wounded from the disaster. The other was the tortured journey the responders to the disaster undertook when they rushed to the scene of the calamity without consideration for their safety and well being, and did everything humanly possible to rescue and give aid to the victims.  Initially, our journey seemed to end before it even began. We waited and waited for patients to arrive, yearning to be able to care for those innocents caught by chance in the horrific maelstrom perpetrated by the  terrorists.  No patients arrived that day.  People either escaped…or were killed.  The responders had to face that tragic reality as well.  Too soon, they had to shift the focus of their efforts from rescue to recovery.

Several days after the attack, I went down to the World Trade Center site.  I witnessed the smoldering destruction and all-pervasive dust, inhaled the caustic odor that permeated the air, and was humbled by the extraordinary response. As a trained clinician and scientist, I observed a situation containing all the ingredients needed for the development of significant mental and physical disease…I decided to change course. We established a voluntary clinic for responders from our community, both professional and nonprofessional, to help meet their medical and psychological needs.”

Out of this experience, our oral history project was born.