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Community honors retired paramedic who died from cancer related to 9/11

Posted at 7:53 PM, May 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-20 07:53:05-04

Sixteen years after the September 11 attacks, another life has been lost.

A former New York City paramedic who saved lives pulling people from the rubble has died at age 54.

The hero, who retired here in Palm Beach County, died due to rare type of cancer caused by his exposure that day.

But on Friday, countless friends, family and colleagues came together to honor his sacrifice.

Despite everything he went through, family and friends said Harris always had a smile on his face.

"That's everything Mark was. Mark was all about helping people. He would give you the shirt off his back," said Kathleen Devaynes, who was Mark's paramedic partner in New York City for 14 years. "He was an amazing paramedic and amazing person. And it was my pleasure and my honor to have the time I spent working with him."

He was part of an elite group of rescue paramedics in New York City. After a long battle with cancer related to his work during 9/11, Harris passed away last Saturday.

"Why does God give him sickness and let him suffer?" said Mark's wife, Brandi, during an emotional speech at the service.

Fire departments from across South Florida,  and former colleagues who flew all the way from New York, stood by his family as they brought his casket to the 911 memorial he helped build in Wellington.

"We fought this battle together and never let it limit our dreams for the future. Cancer did not cripple our love. It made us stronger and closer," Brandi said during the service. "He fought with pride and dignity, and never ever once thinking of not fighting this cancer and leaving me."

"He made the ultimate sacrifice. Because clearly, the cause of his death of was 100 percent related to his 911 exposure," said Zachary Goldfarb, the EMS deputy chief for NYC who worked Harris for most of his decades-long career.

Harris shared his account of 9/11 with WPTV in an interview last September. On that day, he arrived at the World Trade Center minutes before the first tower collapsed.

Click here to read his story.

“You remember the smell, the taste, the feel of that cloud and the absolute and total darkness," he said during that interview. "I was able to dig myself out, but I couldn't see, I was covered [in dust]. The first thing we did was try to save people."

He left New York for South Florida when he retired the department seven years ago but he couldn't stop helping others. He worked as an EMS liaison at Delray Medical Center.

"His heart was big as could be," said Mark Bryan, Delray Medical Center CEO. "He continued to give back for any volunteer fire rescue work."

His former colleagues from New York hope Harris' legacy is a reminder of so many 9/11 survivors still fighting.

"Those who are sick and suffering and hurting now or dying. And we should always keep them in our memories. 9/11 is behind us but it's not so far back and it's still affecting many of our lives," said Goldfarb.

Harris' name is on the 9/11 memorial's scroll of honor for recovery workers.

His family is asking for donations to be sent in his name to the University of Miami hospital's cancer ward for children. Please send the donations in Mark Harris' name to:

University of Miami Hospital
COO Kymberlee Mani
1400 North West 12th Ave.
Miami, Florida