MIAMI, Fla. – After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, first responders spent months at ground zero and were joined by volunteers, people whose job it was not to face the danger but who chose to go and help, wherever they could.
Now one of those volunteers is fighting for his life in South Florida.
“I thought I was still a tough guy, but 9/11 humbled my whole life,” said William Cantres, who volunteered at Ground Zero. “You could see people’s stuff just as they got into work, took off their jackets and went for coffee.”
On September 11, 2001, Cantres was working as an electrician in New York City.
He heard about the first plane hitting the Twin Towers and then said he saw the second plane hit with his own eyes.
“As long as I live, I will never forget that,” says Cantres.
Willie, as his loved ones call him, said he immediately felt the urge to help and rushed to Ground Zero where he would spend the next 6 months working on the stack.
“I went there to support more men on deck. Better chance of finding survivors.” After working on the pile for a few hours, you were soaking wet and you . . . we smelled of fire and smoke.”
But Cantres, like many others who inhaled the dust, eventually developed major health problems and was unable to work or live as he used to.
“He needed oxygen. He had a condition called ‘sarcoidosis’. He ended up developing a more advanced type of sarcoidosis and therefore required a lung transplant,” said Dr. Jackson Health’s Tiago Machuca.
Machuca is the Director of the Pulmonary Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He started working with Cantres a few years ago.
Finally, in July 2022, Cantres received a double lung transplant and a glimmer of hope to return to his normal life.
But then, another bad break. During his postoperative care, doctors discovered that Cantres had been diagnosed with throat cancer and was now undergoing difficult radiation treatment.
“I’ve been in and out of hospitals; I’ve lived in a hospital more than at home,” he says.
dr Neeraj Sinha, a transplant pulmonologist at Jackson Health, says the radiation treatments are given five times a week for seven consecutive weeks. “The radiation treatment causes irritation in his throat and he gets a bad sore throat from it. I remain very optimistic that the treatment regimen he has meticulously and bravely undergone will treat the cancer,” Sinha says, adding that the incidence of sarcoidosis in the New York City population has increased by “5- or 6-fold” years.
Doctors say his situation is delicate but that Cantres is a fighter and they believe he will pass that test too.
“I have to. I have a grandson. I want to be able to throw a ball with him and try to make him a man, a good man,” says Cantres.
Machuca says helping Cantres is also a humbling thing. “For us it is very touching, for us it is an honor to help a person who put himself in this situation so selflessly and never hesitated, the country needed him so he was there.”
Cantres couldn’t work because of the sarcoid and now of course because of the cancer diagnosis.
If you would like to help Cantres there is a Gofundme facility.
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