The NY Times has a fascinating article that gives more details about the death of police officer Cesar Borja. Borja, who died last month of pulmonary fibrosis, became a symbol of 9/11 responders afflicted with health issues. The media touted how Borja worked 16-hour shifts at Ground Zero, A few hours after his death, is son, Caesar Borja Jr., attended the State of the Union as Senator Hillary Clinton's guest and, later, the Borja family met with President Bush to discuss their situation.
The NY Times front page article reveals "very few of the most dramatic aspects of Officer Borja’s powerful story appear to be fully accurate." While the Daily News suggested that Borja rushed to Ground Zero and worked long shift, Borja's widow Eva R. Borja says "it's not true," and showed the Times her husband's composition book that included notes about his work. Borja went to Ground Zero on December 24, 2001, in hopes of having more overtime in order to fulfill his pension. When asked why she didn't correct the impression, Eva Borja said she was too busy dealing with her husband's death.
As for Caesar Borja, he told the NY Times:
“They kept saying my dad’s a first responder,” he said of the newspaper accounts. “I honestly never knew if he was a first responder.” Asked why he had not corrected the seemingly erroneous or unconfirmed public accounts, he said, “The reason I never tried to correct that impression is I never knew the truth of whether my father was there or not. It was always a mystery for me. I never thought of correcting them because I honestly believed it myself.”
He also said about speaking out about WTC illnesses, "That was my first, inaugural speech as a political activist, which I never expected. I was just there expressing my emotions. I didn’t know any facts. I was just speaking from the heart, and everything took off from there.”
In Caesar Borja's Daily News account of his meeting with President Bush, he wrote:
My dad, Cesar Borja, a retired New York City police officer, contracted the lung disease pulmonary fibrosis from working there after 9/11. He died last week, right before I attended the State of the Union address...
...My dad didn't get a full inspector's funeral because the NYPD doesn't recognize that he died in the line of duty, and the doctors won't draw a direct connection.
Bush asked us if that made any difference for our benefits - he was really concerned about that. I said we would be taken care of.
But I said, "Mr. President, my father did die in the line of duty because my father's pulmonary fibrosis was directly connected to his service at Ground Zero."
Borja Sr. worked in the NYPD tow pound and had been a pack-a-day smoker until the mid-1990s. Still, it's unclear what caused his pulmonary fibrosis. Mount Sinai says that the hours Borja worked at Ground Zero "provided ample opportunity for exposure to dusts" and the NY Times has another article about how pulmonary fibrosis "is a rare and deadly disorder whose causes are poorly understood."
And, at any rate, Caesar Borja still thinks of his dad as a hero. After telling the Times that there are probably more people who are very sick from their work at Ground Zero, he said, "I don’t believe my father to be any less heroic than I previously thought, any less valiant than the other papers previously misreported on.”