911 Illness

NY Daily News - October 03, 2006

by NANCY DILLON

He yelled, "We have to get out. Run!" and hustled five junior firefighters out of the north tower moments before the collapse on 9/11, saving them.

Now Roy Chelsen is fighting for his own survival: He's been diagnosed with the same incurable cancer that recently struck an FDNY comrade who also spent weeks digging through the rubble at Ground Zero.

"Nobody will admit it, but I feel I got this from 9/11," Chelsen, 46, said yesterday. "We were there when the towers fell and we sucked all those toxins in."

Yesterday, Chelsen's family organized a blood and bone-marrow donation drive at his Engine 28/Ladder 11 firehouse in the East Village.

"Roy took it upon himself to get his guys out of the building [on 9/11]. It was chaos and he went on instinct," said Robert Salvador, 52, a retired firefighter who turned out to give blood. "I'm really saddened by his illness. He's a great guy. And it makes you wonder what's going to happen to the rest of us," he added.

Chelsen was hospitalized with an infection over the weekend but is still preparing for a stem cell transplant operation Oct. 17. He underwent a procedure yesterday for stem cell harvesting at Westchester Medical Center.

"It's a rare cancer and I'm only 46," Chelsen said. "This usually hits guys in their 60s. "But I'm one of the lucky ones. I made it out [on 9/11]. We lost six guys in our house that day."

Doctors diagnosed Chelsen with Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia last Christmas after he lost almost 20 pounds and began suffering joint pain.

The Warwick, N.Y., dad of a 19-year-old son also is battling a related bone marrow cancer, said his wife, Trish, a nurse.

"It's been a very devastating time for us," Trish Chelsen, 44, said. "We're still optimistic Roy is going to beat this and live healthy again. But it's a daily struggle. And we don't feel we're backed up by the authorities in connecting this to 9/11."

Fellow Bravest Lee Ielpi, who lost his firefighter son Jonathan, 29, in the terrorist attack and spent nine months working at The Pile, was diagnosed with Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia about four months ago after suffering shortness of breath and swelling in his ankles.

Trish Chelsen said her husband's FDNY drug benefits maxed out in June, even though his prescription for Thalidomide still runs $3,000 a month. She's using her part-time salary to pay $500 a month for extra coverage.

Another blood drive organized in Chelsen's honor is scheduled for Oct. 14 at Zion Lutheran Church on Watchogue Road in Staten Island.