Argentine Doctor's Life Changed Forever at Ground Zero

Dr. Alejandra Ciappa faces death everyday at her work as a Genetic Psychiatrist at the Fundación Favaloro in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But September 11th 2001 was a turning point in her life.

Back then, she lived in the Upper West Side of New York City and was a Research Assistant in Molecular Biology, at the Department of Pathology at Columbia University. That morning she woke up early, as usual, and turned-on the TV in time to see the first plane crashing into the Twin Towers.  

Ciappa went to the Red Cross to serve as a rescue volunteer and worked there for three days, doing everything that could help.

“I saw and I felt horror, terror and --I don't know how to say it -- how human beings can do something so bad and at the same elicit a response by so many that is so good. You saw a million people, trying to help, inside the Ground Zero area.  No one is ready for that, even me, I have medical training yet, what I saw was huge, was overwhelming.”

Her task was to help evacuate surrounding buildings in the area. That wasn’t easy. People were in shock shocked and didn’t want to leave their homes. She remembers:

“Francesca was an Italian woman. She was very friendly. She asked me to eat because I was too skinny. She didn’t want to leave her home, her tomatoes, and her little garden on her balcony. She didn’t want to leave that place without her friends, who were 90 years old as she was. They were so fun, so sweet; we had to walk down in the dark 15 floors. When they reached the floor, they felt really saved. So many floors are a long, long way to old people with mobility’s problems. I tried to find her when I went there, one year after, on the 1st Anniversary of 9/11, but she wasn’t there anymore. She had died,” remembers Ciappa.

Sometime after the first anniversary of 9/11, Ciappa returned to Argentina and brought with her little pieces of buildings from Ground Zero.   “When I decided to do that, I thought about Argentine families who lost their relatives there.  Perhaps, one day they need something and I could give it to them.”

Today, 10 years after that tragic day, Ciappa tries to forget the horror and to bring to her memory the good things that human being could learn at that moment.

“I prefer to remember good things because there are less painful and I think are more useful, because you have the faith that you can change the world, that you can change something”.

Teresa Sofía Buscaglia is a freelancer in Buenos Aires.