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A September 11 Survivor Uses a Positive Attitude to Regain His Health and Life

Over the past month, there have been so many stories about people who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. But here is a story that appeared in the New York Daily News recently that is an excellent example of a survivor who is getting on with his life, and all burn victims can learn from him as they fight to get through their physical and psychological injuries.

Tax lawyer Harry Waizer was ready to get to work when he took the elevator up to his World Trade Center office just before 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. Harry was 50 years old at the time, and the father of three children. If he had been just two minutes later to work that day, he would have been able to go home that night and tell his family how he escaped. Instead, he became a victim of severe burns that affect him 10 years later, and which will affect him his whole life.

Harry managed to get out of the building a few minutes after the first plane struck his building, but he was severely injured by fire across his entire body. When the plane hit the top of the building, the elevator he was riding in suddenly went into a freefall and burst into flames–not once, but twice.

Harry suffered severe burns over most of his body and face, including lung burns. He would spend the next seven weeks in a coma. Still, Harry was one of the very few people in his entire office to survive.

“I was seconds away from joining my friends on the 104th floor and those seconds were the difference between my survival and my death,” says Harry, who is now 60. “I feel lucky.”

Harry and a woman were going up towards the tower’s 104th floor when the elevator started to shake. Then, without warning, it plummeted and erupted in flames. “Everything seemed to be in slow motion,” Harry says. “There were flames on the floor, carpeting, on the walls.” He said he frantically stamped out the fire with his canvas briefcase.

The elevator stopped short, but then started gliding down toward the elevator bank on the 78th floor. For a moment, Harry thought it would be all right. But a few floors above him, a fire swept down and engulfed the elevator once again. “A fireball came in the gap of the door and this one caught me square in the face,” he says.

The fire disappeared quickly and then the elevator doors opened to the 78th floor. Harry and the woman joined the flood of shell-shocked workers marching down the emergency stairs. “At such a moment, you’re not thinking deep thoughts. You are reacting,” he says. “What went through my head is, ‘I have to get down and find help.’ That’s all I thought about it. I had no thought about how injured I might be.”

About 25 floors down, an emergency worker spotted the badly burned man and cleared the path down for him. He was rushed to New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center’s burn unit and placed in a medically induced coma for eight weeks.

Harry awoke to the news that he had suffered third-degree burns across his face, arms, hands and legs. Then he learned that terrorists had slammed a plane into the tower. And then, while lying in his hospital bed with his wife standing over him, he got the worst news of all: Most of his coworkers were dead.

Harry underwent intensive rehabilitation for months, and actually returned to his company in March 2004. But he only works about three days a week, and has constant back pain plus nerve damage that reduces the strength in his left hand. Still, Harry counts himself fortunate. “I recognize how close I was,” he says.

Going back to work for his company was one way that Harry could feel that he had overcome the difficult circumstances that life put in front of him. And although he will have pain for the rest of his life, Harry knows he has the support of his coworkers, in addition to the love and support of his family.

If you or someone you know suffers a burn injury, please call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, NY so that they can determine whether another party is legally liable for your injuries and if you have a case.