Guilford Chiropractor Joined 9-11 Relief Effort
News of the horrific terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center (WTC) and the equally deadly collapse of the Twin Towers was still fresh and frightening when Dr. Bob Skarzynski answered a call for a specialized type of help.
It’s hard to recall already, but 10 years ago, fear of further terrorist attacks, especially in New York City and the surrounding area, hung in the air as heavy as the smoke and dust covering Ground Zero in the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001.
Bob, a doctor of Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Nutrition Response Testing, has maintained a Guilford practice for 26 years and moved here with his wife and children in 2002. Back on Sept. 11, 2001, the Skarzynskis were living in East Haven, just a short distance from the home of Bob’s elderly mom, who first told him news of a plane crashing into a WTC tower.
“I was at home, on my way to work. My mother was alive at the time and lived a few houses away from us. She was really upset about the building being struck and nervous about more planes,” says Bob, who stayed with her to calm her.
Like so many millions of Americans, they watched the rest of the morning’s terrible events unfold during live TV coverage. A few days later, Bob was at work when a fax came in from the Chiropractic Council of Connecticut.
“They were looking for chiropractors to go treat workers at the church at the site,” says Bob.
New York City’s St. Paul’s Chapel, a tiny 18th century Episcopal church which miraculously survived unscathed as the north and south towers collapsed around it, had become a relief center for the round-the-clock workers clearing debris and managing the recovery effort at Ground Zero.
Bob says he didn’t immediately respond the council’s call, but it remained on his mind.
“I thought about it a little bit and then a patient said to me doing that is something I think you’ll never forget. And now, I’m really glad I did.”
Bob signed up as a volunteer, and about two weeks after the terrorist attacks, he was notified of his first six-hour shift. He was assigned as the only chiropractor (usually four to a shift) on duty from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. at St. Paul’s. Bob took the last train out of New Haven to New York City and caught a cab at about 1 a.m.
“It was really strange. The city was really quiet,” says Bob.
It definitely didn’t seem like the same city where he’d proposed to his wife, Lisa; and subsequently visited each year on the night after Christmas with their children Max and Ana, now teenagers.
“The taxi took me to where the (attack) area was blocked off,” he says. “A police officer checked under the hood of the taxi, then asked me what I was doing there.”
Bob presented his identification and explained he was there to treat workers.
“He said thank you very much for what you’re doing, doctor.” Bob says. “That got me.”
Bob says his next emotional experience was simply walking into St. Paul’s Chapel. The chapel’s delicate spires rose above blocks of twisted steel wreckage and frozen first response apparatus crushed under tons of collapsed concrete.
“The church was very somber. My experience there was very humbling. The whole serenity of it took on a life of its own. You were surrounded by people trying to help.”
Bob’s practiced touch was put to work almost right away, thanks to one particular member of the NYPD breaking the ice.
“I got to know a lot of the police and they are great – I loved them. The first police officer I worked with was the one who needed it the most. He approached me, and that opened it up to the rest of them,” says Bob, who mainly worked easing neck muscles and lower backs of NYPD and other Ground Zero workers.
As the weary officers got ready to lie on a portable adjustment table for treatment, “…they were just taking off their guns and putting them at my feet,” he recalls.
The second and final time Bob was given a shift at St. Paul’s, some NYPD officers gave Bob and another volunteer chiropractor a tour of the wreckage.
“It looked like a war zone. You could see smoke still coming up from the rubble and it was all still blocked off. It was pretty horrifying,” says Bob.
The officers also shared personal stories about their own experiences on Sept. 11, 2001.
“They told us their stories, which are much more important than mine. When one of the towers was coming down, they were running from the collapse. Some went this way, some went the other. The ones I met obviously took the right choice.”
As for Bob’s own choice to put aside any fears of personal safety and head over to Ground Zero to lend a helping hand, he says, “…I’m sure glad I did it. It was good to go back a second time. It’s the kind of thing that will stick with you forever. The majority of people wanted to do something to help and it was a fortunate thing to be able to do something.”
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