BAYONNE – Sept. 11, 2001 began like any other day for Mickey McCabe – except it was a day that would change his life.
McCabe, owner and president of the ambulance service bearing his name, was on duty and in the midst of a routine day at his Broadway office when he got the call: A plane had hit the World Trade Center and help was needed.
Within minutes, he arrived in New York City at the World Trade Center.
“We were one of the first New Jersey units in,” McCabe said. “I went into the North Tower. I was there following the terrorist attack in 1993. I knew the plan. I knew what to do.”
McCabe provided emergency services for about 12 hours before he went home that night. He came back for days after that, working on “the pile,” the smoldering ruins of 1 and 2 World Trade Center which had collapsed.
What McCabe did not know then was that he was breathing in a toxic mixture of chemicals. For 12 years, there were no effects noticed. But then in 2013, getting up a staircase became an effort for him.
A visit to his doctor to investigate what were thought to be cardiac problems wound up being a totally different diagnosis. After going through a battery of tests, it was discovered that McCabe’s lungs, not his heart, was where the problem was.
“The doctor said, ‘Your lungs got a lot of stuff in there,’” McCabe recalls.
He had contracted interstitial lung disease, a disorder characterized by progressive scarring of the lung tissue. Pulmonary fibrosis was a secondary diagnosis.
There is no treatment for his condition, and no cure.
Since McCabe’s diagnosis, he has depended on a constant source of portable oxygen. Whether he is at home, at work at McCabe Ambulance where his son Michael has taken over operations, or traveling between the two, he is connected to oxygen 24/7.
The only solution for McCabe is a lung transplant, and he was placed on a transplant list today, the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, suburban Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
When the call comes that a donor has been found, McCabe will have two hours to get to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital for his transplant. He is confident that he will make it there in time and that the operation will be a success.
Each year on this day McCabe thinks about the severe loss of lives. He also thinks about how that day still lives on.
“I’m one of the living proofs that the catastrophe of 9/11 continues today,” McCabe said. “People are still dying every single day. Workers from the towers, and certainly first responders; police, fire and EMS workers.
“When the anniversary comes each year, you think about the significance of the day,” he said. “I never thought it would affect my life so severely 15 years later – and permanently.”
But McCabe said he has no regrets. He did what he needed to do that day, knows he made a difference, and would do it again tomorrow.