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Son of Late 9/11 Rescue Worker Advocates Expanded Health Care


Caesar Borja Jr.'s dream came true Wednesday. The college student met privately with President George Bush to make the case for expanded health care coverage for all workers at the World Trade Center site. Borja's father, a New York City police officer, died waiting for a lung transplant last week. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the story.

Borja, 21, believes his father's pulmonary fibrosis was directly linked to the months he spent working at the World Trade Center site after the terrorist attack. Borja believes his father should have received the same burial as police officers who die in the line of duty.

The student at New York's Hunter College has become the human face of a campaign for more federal funding to treat people exposed to toxins at the World Trade Center site.

Borja says he and his family were honored to meet the president, but he would not reveal any of Mr. Bush's comments during the private meeting. Borja says he told the president funding should be expanded to include all responders at the site and downtown residents and should include state of the art medical equipment and the latest drugs.

"I expressed how the funding should be expanded not for just the heroes and heroines, but also those that live in residency around the area," he said. "There are children there and people who rushed to get the city of New York up and running shortly after 9/11 occurred so that our economy would not fail, those businesses from the Mom and Pop pizza shops, bagel stores to Wall Street, from the bottom to the top, to help everyone should they be suffering from any World Trade Center-related illness that they also be taken care of and paid for completely by the federal government."

A study of 1,100 of the more than 11,000 responders and volunteers at the site found that 40 percent had persistent lower respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and dry coughs, while 50 percent experienced upper respiratory symptoms, including congestion, ear pain and sore throats. About 51 percent had mental health problems.

Borja has become the symbol of the issue. Just two hours after his father died, Borja attended the President's State of the Union address as the guest of New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Tuesday the Bush administration announced it would propose an additional $25 million to fund 9/11 health care programs, but health care advocates say as much a $2 billion may be needed in the long term.

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