9/11 Stories: Dr. Peter Ilowite

Dr. Peter Ilowite is a dermatologist who was born in Manhattan, with both sides of his family being native New Yorkers. As a child, his dad would take him down to Greenwich Village, where they’d hang out with the hippies.

This is a man who is passionate about his love for New York City. On 9/11, Dr. Ilowite and his wife, a nurse, were living in the NYC suburb of Montvale, New Jersey. Watching the tv coverage of the attacks on The World Trade Center, Dr. Ilowite knew he had to help, just as he did in 1990 at the height of the NYC AIDS epidemic, when there was no treatment for the disease mysteriously killing gay men.

Dr. Ilowite chose to do his year-long internship in the AIDS community, knowing his service would make him a better man and a better doctor. Peter was so obsessed with getting to Ground Zero on 9/11, that when the military stopped him at Houston Street, blocking anyone from going further, Ilowite persisted.

After showing his medical ID card to a truck driver taking rescue workers downtown, he hitched a ride on the back of the truck, where he ended up helping out at a makeshift triage center set up at Stuyvesant High School, joining 8 other doctors who also independently made their way to Ground Zero.

There were no lives to save after the collapse of The Twin Towers, but they treated rescue workers, who had suffered burns, blister and lacerations. Hours later, The U.S. Army took over the medical triage. Dr. Ilowite estimates he spent just 12 to 24 hours at Ground Zero, but that short stay, breathing the toxic dust, was enough to worsen his lifelong asthma to the point that a case of flu years later almost killed him.

His pulmonary function is so poor that at age 59, he qualifies to go on disability, which he refuses. Severe respiratory illnesses and 68 cancers are scientifically linked to the World Trade Center dust, even if someone just spent just hours in the area on 9/11.

No matter their prior medical history, victims are entitled to free lifetime health care in every state and, if certified with a physical 9/11 illness, compensation from the Victim Compensation Fund. Dr. Ilowite has no regrets.

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