By Frances Wang

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Seniors and people with underlying health conditions have been the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and that includes the 9/11 first responders and the thousands of others whose health were impacted by breathing in the toxins at Ground Zero.

Rose Yaruskkaya, a Parkland resident, was a college student at Pace University in lower Manhattan. She still remembers the small details.

“Class was starting at 9:05,” said Yaruskkay. “[I was] actually stuck on the train on the station right under the Twin Towers.

Yaruskkaya remembers the sirens, the commotions.

“Everyone was running, everyone was looking up,” said Yaruskkaya. “I saw on of the Twin Towers on fire.”

Americans have heard the heartbreaking stories of first responders during 9/11, like Ray Pfeiffer and Lou Alvarez, who spent the rest of their lives fighting for fellow first responders to get funding and care for the many who suffered major health impacts.

Pfeiffer and Alvarez have since died.

Yaruskkaya was not a first responder, but she was still later diagnoses with sino-nasal undifferentiated squamous cell carcinoma with INI – SMARC B1 deficiency. It’s a rare cancer she and medical professionals attribute to the toxins she was exposed to.

“I was hit with the devastating news. My actual diagnoses was May 5, 2015, 14 years later,” said Yaruskkaya.

She is able to participate in a trial treatment still in New York, thanks to Telehealth, and trying to stay positive through it all.

“I’ve always been a positive person, just didn’t know to what extent,” said Yaruskkaya.

Attorney Michael Barasch whose firm Barasch & McGarry represents 20,000 members of the 9/11 community said 25 of them have already died from COVID-19 complications, and he knows there are much more we don’t know about yet and more to come as the pandemic continues.

Many first responders and others in the 9/11 community struggle with respiratory illnesses and cancer.

“[They’re the] most vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Barasch. “They brought with them the same respiratory illnesses, cancer, World Trade Center dust. It’s not a surprise to see this big uptick in 9/11 community in Florida.”

Frances Wang