Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Son, A Father, 911 and The President

Guests at last night's State of the Union address didn't just include basketball players and Iraq war veterans. One guest -- who has the most gripping story to tell -- was ignored by the President and the media last night. His name was Ceasar Borja and he was a guest of NY Senator Hillary Rodman Clinton. Just two hour before the President began speaking, Borja received nows that his father had died.
Borja's dad, Cesar, 52, was a Filipino immigrant, a former Army paratrooper and an NYPD cop who never missed a day of work in 20 years.

He volunteered for months of 16-hour shifts at Ground Zero so he could make overtime for his wife, Eva, and their three children: Ceasar, whom he called "Kuya," the Filipino word for older brother; son Evan, 16, and daughter Nhia, 12.

He retired in 2003. He started coughing soon after. By the time he was properly diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis last fall, he could barely walk and his lungs were filled with scar tissue.

He checked into Mount Sinai Medical Center on Dec. 19. He died there at 6 p.m. last night.
Instead of returning immediately to New York, Borja decided to attend the speech.
the 21-year-old promised his family that he was going to sit in front of President Bush, exactly as planned, to bear witness to the suffering of thousands of others like his dad.

"He passed away right when I'm down here fighting for him. This is the most I've ever done for Dad," he told his mom. "Mommy, you know I'm strong, Mom. You were with him, though, right? Good. That's all that matters to me. Comfortably and no pain."

Borja was shivering as he talked on a dark sidewalk outside a Capitol Hill restaurant. Other Ground Zero victims and staffers from Sen. Hillary Clinton's office wrapped him in their arms and sat him down at an empty table. Tears started to fall.

"Dad always knew the man I could become, and I love him for that," Borja said. "Dad didn't go down without a fight, Mom. You know that."
Borja is on a mission:
“I want a meeting with the president to make the case directly about how important these health programs are,” Borja told The Associated Press.

“I want him to hear from me, how my father died a hero last night, and there are many heroes that will and are continuing to die because they’re not given the proper medical attention or not given enough help from the federal government,” said the 21-year-old college student, his voice breaking with emotion.