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Doctor on Trail of Neuropathy Finds Source in WTC Dust

We’ve reported several times recently on studies linking peripheral neuropathy to the dust of Ground Zero. A recent column on the website for the civil service employees’ weekly newspaper, The Chief, gave further details about how a doctor’s observations of 9/11-related illness in patients led to the experiments that strongly suggest a link.

For years, Marc Wilkenfeld, the chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, had seen 9/11 first-responders with lung disease, stomach ailments, sinus problems and PTSD. Then many of them began reporting “terrible numbness” in their hands and feet as well as tingling and pain in their extremities. He observed patients who dropped coffee cups because they lost feeling in their hands.

Dr. Wilkenfeld consulted Dr. Mark Stecker, Winthrop’s chair of neuroscience, who had conducted experiments on the nerves of rats by exposing them to various substances. The doctors obtained dust from the World Trade Center and tested its impact on rats’ sciatic nerves, noting damage that suggested the symptoms they’d observed in their 9/11 patients. This led to their announcement on January 15 of a possible causal connection between WTC dust and peripheral neuropathy. In fact, patients exposed to that dust were found to be 15 times more likely to have severe neuropathy symptoms than unexposed people.

Symptoms of neuropathy, or nerve dysfunction, include tingling, burning pain, numbness and fatigue. The condition has no cure and is degenerative in most cases.

The problem now for 9/11 survivors with neuropathy is that the Zadroga Act doesn’t cover the condition. They must pay for treatment with private insurance or out of pocket. Even with good insurance, the copayments can be a terrible burden. Unfortunately, before neuropathy can be added to the list of Zadroga-eligible conditions, formal peer-review studies are necessary.

We’ve blogged several times recently on the neuropathy connection because this may be the next frontier for Zadroga Act coverage. Expansion of coverage has never been easy. Along with other responder advocates, we had to fight to have cancer added to the list of conditions. Now more than 68 types of cancer are recognized as having a 9/11 connection. With dedicated professionals like Drs. Wilkenfeld and Stecker providing the science to establish a causal connection, it is only a matter of time before 9/11 survivors are granted neuropathy coverage.

If you have questions about your eligibility for Zadroga Act benefits, call Barasch & McGarry at 888-351-9421 or contact our office online.

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