9/11 First Responder Dies As Son Attends 'Union'

Updated: 01-24-2007 11:22:26 AM

Associated Press Writer

College student Ceasar Borja Jr. wanted to attend the State of the Union speech to represent his father, a former New York police officer who worked at ground zero and lay in a hospital bed with life-threatening lung problems.

Only hours before the speech, the 21-year-old found out he would stand as a symbol of his father's sacrifice not just for the speech, but for the rest of his life.

A devastating phone call during dinner Tuesday night told him his father had just died.

Even though he got the news less than three hours before President Bush's speech, Borja insisted on honoring his father's memory by going ahead and attending the prime-time address. He had been invited by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., a longtime advocate for Sept. 11 health issues.

"He passed away right when I'm down here fighting for him. This is the most I've ever done for Dad," the Daily News quoted Borja as saying as he learned of his father's death.

The father, 52-year-old Cesar Borja, had been a police officer for 20 years. In recent days, he had been in an intensive care ward at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, breathing through a tube and hoping for a lung transplant.

"Sadly he was not able to overcome his struggle and receive the gift of organ donation, due to the seriousness of his condition," said the medical center's chief executive officer, Dr. Kenneth L. Davis. "His battle will alert others to these devastating diseases and hopefully lead to better outcomes for others involved."

Borja's case is the latest to draw attention to those who have fallen ill after exposure to the toxic debris pile of the World Trade Center site in 2001.

Sen. Clinton called Borja's death a "terrible tragedy."

The son, she said, "is a courageous and remarkable young man. His sense of duty to his father and to the mission that brought him to Washington is inspiring and heartbreaking."

Borja said he came to Washington to make the point that there are many more whose lives are threatened by their exposure at ground zero.

Clinton and other New York lawmakers have been urging the federal government for years to pay for treating Sept. 11-related illnesses.


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