MIAMI, Fla. – After the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11, first responders spent months at Ground Zero and were joined by volunteers, people whose jobs didn’t require them to run toward danger but who chose to go anyway help as 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 humiliated me my whole life,” said William Cantres who volunteered at Ground Zero. “You could see people’s belongings when they had just arrived at work and they had taken off their jackets and they were going to drink coffee.”
On September 11, 2001, Cantres was working as an electrician in New York.
He heard about the first plane hitting the twin towers and said then he watched with his own eyes how the second plane hit.
“This is something I will never forget as long as I live,” says Cantres.
Willie, as his loved ones call him, says he immediately felt a pull to help and rushed to Ground Zero, where he would spend the next 6 months on the pile.
“I went there to assist more hands on deck. Better chance of finding survivors.” After spending a few hours on the pile, you were soaking wet and you . . . we smelled like fire and smoke.”
But Cantres, like many others who inhaled the dust, eventually developed major health issues and was unable to continue working or living his life as he had been used to.
“He needed oxygen. He had a condition called ‘sarcoidosis’. He ended up developing a more advanced type of sarcoidosis and that’s why he needed a lung transplant,” according to Dr. Tiago Machuca of Jackson Health.
Machuca is the director of the lung center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He started working with Cantres several 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 breakup. During his post-surgery treatment, doctors found Cantres had developed throat cancer, and is now going through difficult radiation treatments.
“I have been in and out of hospitals; I have lived in a hospital more than I have at home,” he says.
Dr. Neeraj Sinha, a transplant pulmonologist at Jackson Health, says the radiation treatments are five times a week for seven weeks in a row. “The radiation treatment causes irritation in the throat and he gets a bad sore throat from it. I remain very optimistic that the treatment he carefully and bravely went through will take care of the cancer,” says Sinha, adding that the incidence of sarcoidosis has increased about “5 or 6 times” in the New York City population compared to previous years .
Doctors said his situation is delicate, but that Cantres is a fighter and they believe he will also push through this test.
“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,” Cantres says.
Machuca says helping Cantres is something that is also humiliating. “For us it’s very touching, for us it’s an honor to help a person who so selflessly put himself in that situation and never hesitated, the country needed him, so he was there.”
Cantres couldn’t work because of the sarcoidois and of course now even more because of that cancer diagnosis.
If you want to help Cantres, a gofundme has been set up.
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