I had worked the overnight shift in Peds ER at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, and was driving home to my apartment in lower Manhattan. A reverse commute, of sorts. It was an incredibly beautiful day – super bright blue sky and crisp air. I must have been distracted by the beauty of the day (especially in comparison to the dungeon in which I had spent the last 12 hours) and completely missed my exit. Forced to go a different way home, I had a good amount of time to ponder the cases from the night before. Just as I got home, the sky changed quickly, and so did my life – forever. Everyone's lives were affected that day in some way. For me, to live close to the twin towers, one block away from the designated emergency route, and to be so closely tied to those involved in rescue and medical industries, made everything extremely intense and emotional . . . for months . . . and what will truly be, forever.
FDNY funerals for fallen firemen were held in order of rank and length of service. July 18th 2002, almost a year after 9/11, I attended Michael Kiefer's funeral. Still an FDNY "rookie" and certainly one of the youngest firefighters on duty, Michael Kiefer was a friend I met working in the ER and fiancée to one of my best friends and PA colleague. Many assumed him to be the most physically fit in the department, and anyone who knew him, knows that he undoubtedly made it to the higher floors. I always envisioned him carrying at least four people to safety at the time of the collapse. This was his life's mission.
Attendance was so high at the funeral, I felt lucky to even be inside the church. Seated randomly next to others I had never met, but instantly felt a connection with. I recall an extreme shortage of Kleenexes and likely the best display of recycling and group sharing of Kleenexes in history. His family, friends, and colleagues told stories about how Mike wanted to be a firefighter since he was two, and we all listened intently (even though we all knew most of the stories). Funny stories, too, about him putting smoke bombs in the shed in their backyard and telling his sisters, "duck low and go." Another one about how he miraculously managed to bring home a detached fire hydrant on his bike (as a kid) and plant it in their backyard. And more about how he would listen to the dispatch radio at night, as a young kid, and then ride his bike to the scene in the middle of the night (under age 10). He was a remarkably thoughtful, passionate individual from a young age, and uniquely in tune to his potential fate. He actually left a card for his parents, 2 days before 9/11, about how much he loved them and explaining that they were his best friends forever. His parents later gathered a lifetime of similar cards and hand written notes from Michael, with touching comments like, "I went to the store to buy you a holiday gift but everything was so expensive. So I thought I would write you this card and tell you how much I love you." Even Rudy Guiliani, who spoke at the funeral, said in tears, "I wish that my children were as thoughtful and caring as Michael."
This is just one story of thousands that were lost that day. This one being very personal to me, I wanted to share it with our audience, many of whom were also working in NYC and the surrounding boroughs on 9/11. Mike's story focuses on his long–term commitment to his dream – something we can all relate to, and I think is very healthy to read about in remembrance of this day.
Lara Manchik Francisco, PA-C
Link to Mike's story: http://longisland.newsday.com/911-anniversary/victims/Michael-Kiefer