Thursday, August 20, 2009

'Symbol of everyday heroes' Valley Stream man is subject of film on Sept. 11 health issues

This article was on the front page of the VALLEY STREAM HERALD last week. Thank you Andrew Hackmack!

'Symbol of everyday heroes' Valley Stream man is subject of film on Sept. 11 health issues

By Andrew Hackmack
August 20, 2009

Though Maria Pusateri finished her documentary about the health of Sept. 11 responders four years ago, she is still working hard to get the word out about the film. "Vito After" features Valley Stream resident Vito Friscia, a now-retired New York City police detective who was at ground zero following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

While with the NYPD, Friscia recalled, he was on his way to the World Trade Center site after the south tower fell and was about a block and a half away when the north tower collapsed. He worked in "the pit" at ground zero for about a week after the attacks, then was stationed at the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, where he helped sort through the rubble.Friscia, a father of two, said he started developing health problems almost immediately. By November of 2001, Pusateri, his sister-in-law, was already talking about making a film about the illnesses he and other Sept. 11 responders were suffering from. "This is not right," Pusateri said she remembers thinking at the time. "The responders are getting sick."

By April of 2002, shortly after Friscia stopped working at the landfill, she had convinced him to be her subject. "Vito After" follows him through his daily activities, medical visits and conversations with other first responders from the NYPD. Friscia said that although the police department had doubts about his doing the film, he felt it was important to get the information out.

Now, almost eight years later, Friscia still suffers from chronic sinusitis, a swelling of the sinuses. He has a regular cough, occasional shortness of breath and rashes, and his voice is more hoarse. Many others who responded to the World Trade Center or worked alongside him at the landfill have the same symptoms. Some are extremely sick, he said.As a result of his health issues, Friscia said, his overall quality of life has changed. "When I do get sick now," he said, "I get sick worse than I usually do."

He retired from the NYPD in August of 2007. A graduate of East Rockaway High School, Friscia has lived in Valley Stream for 20 years. He and his wife, Lisa, have a daughter, Lisa, 17, and a son, Vito, 12. He coaches his daughter's team in the Valley Stream Soccer League and his son's Colts baseball team. Pusateri, of Syosset, said she began showing her 48-minute film at festivals in 2005. She won the Best Documentary award at the 2006 Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore. But "Vito After" has attracted little attention, she said, and she wants people to know about the health issues Sept. 11 responders are dealing with.

"Vito After" is available on Amazon and has also recently become available on Netflix. "You can't put that on yourself," she said. "Netflix has to approve it. They liked it a lot, obviously."Copies are also available at the Henry Waldinger Memorial Library. Pusateri said she will send a free copy to any Sept. 11 responder. She described the documentary as an "uplifting and honest film," and Friscia as a remarkable subject. "He's really a symbol for all of these everyday heroes," Pusateri said. "It's important that people get an intimate look at what someone like him is going through."

Mike Arcari, executive director of Faithful Response, said he uses the movie as a training tool for his therapists. Faithful Response, which is based in North Bellmore, provides mental health support for those impacted by the events of Sept. 11. "If you were there and you were affected by it, we provide you assistance," Arcari said. He added that "Vito After" provides insight into how families have been affected by the attacks, and it reminds people that Sept. 11 is more than just the sobering numbers of dead and injured. "It puts a face on the tragedy," Arcari said of the movie. Friscia, who is taking part in a study of Sept. 11 responders that monitors their health, said he hopes the film gains a wider audience, because many people don't realize what still-suffering police officers, firefighters, rescue personnel and other workers and volunteers are going through.

The House Judiciary Committee recently approved a portion of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, to provide long-term comprehensive health care for those who were sickened or injured in the aftermath of the attacks. A vote by the full House is expected by the eighth anniversary of Sept. 11 next month. Friscia said he hopes the law passes and believes it is only right. "I hope they take care of us," he said. "I don't think that's a lot to ask. We all got sick so fast."Comments about this story? or (516) 569-4000 ext. 265.
©Herald Community 2009

I would just like to clarify two things in the above article: where I mentioned it hasn't attracted much attention, I meant it hasn't yet attracted the attention of the major media (which so many feel it deserves). I'm grateful for all the high praises it has received from people who have seen it, at film festivals, other screenings, and those who have reviewed it. I also need to clarify that the free DVD offer is for 9/11 responders who are ill and having financial difficulties. (There is a standing 50% discount for any first responder, whether or not you were at WTC.) Please email maria(at) for further details. Thank you.