Saturday, May 19, 2007

Oklahoma Resident First Responder of 9/11 Praises Sicko Movie

From the AP:

NEW YORK -- It could have been a college reunion: hugs, tears, laughter, photos, and a big friendly guy in shorts and sneakers organizing it all. But the guy in shorts was Michael Moore, whose new documentary, "Sicko," takes aim at the U.S. health care industry with the same fury - laced with humor, of course, and plenty of statistics - that he directed at the Bush administration in his hit "Fahrenheit 9/11."

And the people who'd flown in for this intimate first screening, a day after the film had been shipped to the Cannes Film Festival, included grateful Sept. 11 "first responders," suffering lung problems or other ailments from their days at ground zero. In the film, Moore takes them to Cuba and tries to get them treated at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay - where, he contends, terror suspects were getting better medical care than the heroes of 9/11.


At his screening Tuesday evening at a Manhattan hotel, however, Moore was focused on the reaction of his invited guests.

"Three years ago tonight, we had the first screening of 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' with victims' families," he told them. "It was a very powerful experience, and now we're honored to have all of you here. We're very proud of this film. We're confident it will have a significant impact."

When the lights came up, Reggie Cervantes, a former 9/11 "first responder" who now lives in Oklahoma, spoke first.

"It was funny. It was real," said Cervantes, 46, who says she suffers from pulmonary ailments, esophageal reflex, post-traumatic stress disorder, ear and eye infections and other problems stemming from time at ground zero. Of the trip, she said: "It feels surreal. Were we really there?"


The patients he brought had all struggled at home with health care costs. Some, like Cervantes, had lost their health insurance because they could no longer work, and were navigating the workmen's compensation system.

John Graham, a disabled carpenter and EMT from Paramus, N.J., came to the screening with his daughters. On 9/11 he was at his job at the carpenter's union offices, near the World Trade Center. He rushed over before the second plane hit, spending 31 hours at first, then helping out for months after that. He says he was later diagnosed with lung problems, burns on his esophagus, chronic sinusitis and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things: "I need a notebook to remember everything."

Graham, who stopped working in 2004, now lives on $400 per week in workmen's comp payments. He split from his wife and says he is unable to keep up with childcare payments.

In Cuba, Graham had five full days of medical tests and received medication for his reflux problems. Cervantes was treated for eye and nose infections, among other things, and in a drugstore found pills for only pennies that cost her more than $100 at home. Maher had the longest treatment, to correct dental problems - he said ground zero-related stress and dreams about "people falling from the sky" made him grind his teeth at night.

Moore hopes his latest film will make people stop and think about what he sees as the tragic ills of the health care industry.

"We are the richest country in the world," the director said. "We spend more on health care than any other country. Yet we have the worst health care in the Western world. Come on. We can do better than this."

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