NY Daily News - December 27, 2009by Michael Mcauliff
They didn't find that out until early Christmas morning 2009, eight years later, when the firefighter's lungs finally overfilled with fluids, the side-effects of pancreatic cancer inflicted on him by the toxic dust he swallowed in hundreds of hours at Ground Zero.
Ryan answered the call of duty on 9/11, then went beyond, returning to the blasted ground for months. First, he hunted survivors, then victims, then just fragments of people - his FDNY brothers among them - whose lives and bodies were shattered that day.
He didn't realize how his own life was being shattered. Officials said the air was safe. He got cancer in 2006 that the Fire Department said came from the poison rubble. He beat it once. He couldn't beat it a second time, as a 48-year-old father of three.
On Christmas Eve, he tried to be himself, optimistic, helping with the morning dishes in his Kings Park, L.I., home as if he were not dying. By then, though, he had been off his cancer treatments since November because they no longer worked.
"That's just the way he is," his wife, Magda, said Christmas night, hours after her husband lost his final struggle.
That's the way most real heroes are, but there were no national headlines the next day mourning a hero firefighter's death, the way there were on Sept. 12, 2001, when 343 of Ryan's brethren met their ends.
The news yesterday was instead full of a botched airline terror attempt.
According to the reports, a young Nigerian man on a plane landing in Detroit had attempted to set ablaze chemicals taped to his leg. He burned himself, and achieved an effect like popping firecrackers before a passenger tackled him.
A flash and some smoke and some fear, and the whole world cared.
The suspected terrorist failed. He killed no one, unlike the monsters of 9/11, whose grim tally keeps climbing. Now including James Ryan.
He is a victim of the same killers who slammed the planes into the twin towers, the same killers who may be behind the Detroit flameout.
Yet for him, and for other recent 9/11 casualties like the NYPD's James Zadroga and the FDNY's John McNamara, our attention and care is selective. They didn't die amid the first flash and fire and fear, and are not being treated the same. Their families are not getting the help their predecessors in death got.
There is an answer. There is an attempt to make our nation care - a bill in Congress named after Zadroga that would spend $11 billion over 30 years to help Magda Ryan support her children as a single mother, and help thousands of other first responders, construction workers, clergy and volunteers who are ill and suffering the mounting effects of the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
But like the rest of America, Congress is distracted by flashier things. Those who responded on 9/11 - there are some 60,000 whose health is being monitored across most of the nation - are not a top priority.
The latest politician to put them on the back burner is New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, who promised in September to bring up the bill in his subcommittee in October. He never did. The Daily News asked three times what happened. Pallone's office answered twice that they'd look into it.
We're still waiting, and so are the ailing heroes of Sept.11, and the spouses and children of the dead and dying, because Jim Ryan will not be the last victim of Sept. 11.