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OMS students' cards touch 9/11 first-responder

OMS teacher Meredith Summer's (bottom, far right) students sent handmade cards to Hazan. Pictured are: (Front row, from left) Justin Kardos, Mason Upham and Lucas Barber. (Second row, from left) Kirsten Hufstedler, Jing Xiong, Samantha Dunn, Leah Freiberg, Hannah Karalus, Jodi Walker, Alyssa Schefke and Vanessa Kasiukiewic. (Third row, from left) Gina McCowey, Conner DeMarco, Caleb Talbert, Sierra Duda, Makenna Kater, Abigail Trbovich and Kaitlyn Fox. (Back row, from left) Ric'Kyia Kimble, Paige Curton, Alexandria Eiseler, Adaline Bird, Gabrielle Rastigue, Kenna Wagner, Jessa Felix and Rachel Wells. Not pictured: Alexa Schramm and Preston Lenarcic. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
November 13, 2013 - A simple 'thank you' can mean so very much.

Just ask Jaime Hazan, who served as a volunteer first-responder in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

A group of 28 Oxford Middle School seventh-graders in teacher Meredith Summer's advisory and humanities classes sent Hazan a batch of handmade cards expressing their gratitude, concern and well wishes.

They wanted to let him know they were truly touched by his story and show him they cared.

"The kids seemed to have more empathy for the first-responders than everyone in public office combined," said Hazan, 42, of Jersey City, New Jersey. "I've never been touched by something so meaningful before."

Sept. 11 first-responder Jaime Hazan and Old Glory. (click for larger version)
"It was the nicest thing that's happened so far," he added. "It was an outpouring of support that let me know there are people out there in our country that care."

Summer has never met Hazan in person. She's friends with him on Facebook and follows his regular posts about the health struggles that 9/11 first-responders face.

"When I saw what he and all the other first-responders were going through – having so many health problems and then having their benefits withheld (by) the government – I was truly saddened, so I brought their story to my students' attention," Summer said.

Seeing how moved they were by Hazan's story, Summer suggested, as a voluntary exercise, that students create some cards and send them to him.

"I had about 25 kids or so who really, really just wanted to reach out to him," she said. "They did and they wrote the most touching cards. They were just so sweet. You don't expect some kids to have this kind of emotion in them. They were so beautiful."

As a thanks for their kindness, Hazan made a 30-minute YouTube video during which he addressed the students individually.

"I wanted the kids to know that I read every single card," he said. "I commented on every single card so they'd feel appreciated just like they made me feel."

"I felt so happy and good when he said my name and read my card," said OMS seventh-grader Jodi Walker, who wasn't even a year old when the terrorist attack happened. "It was a great feeling to know we made him smile. I would not trade that experience for anything."

"I expected Jaime to send a card or something," said OMS seventh-grader Kerstin Hufstedler. "Nobody expected him to send a half-hour video . . . I had to fight the tears."

Hazan went to Ground Zero on Sept. 12, 2001 to aid in the search and rescue efforts.

Even though he had let his certification lapse, at one time he had been an emergency medical technician (EMT) for the New City Volunteer Ambulance Corps. and Rescue Squad, which serves the New York suburb of New City.

"I just said to myself, 'How can I not go? I have to. There's people that need help and I have the skills. Why not use them?'" Hazan said. "So, I went."

"Anyone who's a patriot would have gone down there to help out," he noted.

Hazan only worked at Ground Zero for one day, but as a result of his exposure to all the toxic fumes and debris in the air, Hazan is now disabled.

"I felt really sick after leaving," he said. "The fumes were nasty. I didn't realize I had just ruined my body."

Hazan suffers from a "laundry list" of health problems including gastroesophageal reflux disease, reactive airways dysfunction syndrome, chronic rhinitis, chronic sinusitis, post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic respiratory disorders due to fumes and vapors.

"I'm constantly getting infections in my chest and my nasal passages," he said. "I've had surgery on my stomach and my nose.

"This is one of the hardest things I've had to deal with in my life because you're sick all the time. You might have a few good days, but the bad days are really bad days."

Hazan estimated the medications he must now take cost close to $50,000 annually.

"I'm on 18 medicines," he said.

For example, he carries an injectable drug with him to deal with the severe pain caused by migraines and nerve damage. Those injections alone cost almost $1,000 per month.

Hazan is fighting a legal battle to receive the workers compensation he believes he's entitled to because of his health status.

"I didn't go down to Ground Zero to be a hero. I didn't go down to Ground Zero for a paycheck," he said. "I just went down because (it was) the right thing to do. There's no other reason . . . Once you're an EMS volunteer, you're always an EMS volunteer. It never really leaves your blood."

But because Hazan wasn't a volunteer working for a specific agency, the government maintains he doesn't qualify for workers' compensation. He disagrees.

"On the second day of 9-11, there was barely a chain of command. I was giving orders," Hazan said. "There was no one to work for. You just went down there. I showed my badge, got into the zone and did what I could to help."

Although government officials claim they're trying to protect these benefit funds against fraud, Hazan said they're actually hurting the people who truly need and deserve those monies.

"They're denying legitimate, honest (claims)," he said. "They're denying us benefits and making it very, very hard for us and our families as we go on a multi-year fight to try to get them.

"Fighting for benefits when you feel really, really sick is one of the hardest things to do because you just want to give up . . . I'm not giving up because I feel like I've come this far, why should I give up? I was down there. I got sick from being down there. Why should I not get benefits? . . . Why should I not get my share? I feel bad because I've never asked for anything in my life, ever. I'd rather give than take. I've never, ever taken before. But I guess that's a lesson here, too, learning how to take."

These days, Hazan earns a living by teaching music and has been offered a job as a substitute teacher. He said that's perfect for him because he can work only when he's able and not have to worry about losing his job when he's sick.

"I'm doing the best I can," Hazan said.

Hazan's story made quite an impact on the students.

"He may not think he is a hero, but the truth of the matter is anyone and everyone who was there is a hero," said OMS seventh-grader Adaline Bird.

"I don't think (people) really remember the ones who helped (after the attack) and are still alive," said OMS seventh-grader Kenna Wagner. "They tend to just remember the ones who have died."

"I didn't know anyone personally who had been involved in the tragic terrorist attack," said OMS seventh-grader Alexandra Eiseler. "Now, I have a different and better understanding about 9/11."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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