Former NYC paramedic now facing 9/11 related health challenges in Wellington

EMT was at Ground Zero for less than 24 hours

WELLINGTON, Fla. - Mark Harris rushed in from Staten Island to lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. When the first of the World Trade Center towers collapsed, he nearly died. But he went right back into the aftermath and he iss reminded about that every day. "That big black cloud.. you couldn't outrun it," he said. The retired New York City paramedic now resides in Wellington.

Harris is reminded every day about when the towers collapsed ten years ago. He was just a few hundred feet away at the time. "I had my hand in front of my eyes and I couldn't see my hand and it was so think that, literally, I started to fade out," he said. Harris curled up on the ground when something very sharp - he doesn't know what it was -- nearly sliced his body open. "If this vest wasn't there, than it would have ripped into me," he said. His NYPD vest protected his torso from serious injury.

Harris remained at Ground Zero breathing in smoke, soot and debris until about 1:30 a.m. on September 12. "I wake up some nights in a cold sweat or crying because I remember the suffocation from the dust," he said. Harris can't breath like he used to. Year after year, his lung function continues to diminish. He suffers from reactive airway disease, sinus problems and, too often, he finds himself wheezing. "I got buried by whatever was there and the smoke was incredible," said Harris.

It is not just the physical damage, but also the emotional toll that Harris said he suffers from a decade later. "It's everything. I never had a problem sleeping before 9/11," he said. Harris said he wants Americans to think of 9/11 as more than just a moment in history, but also as an event that still impacts so many lives every day.

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