We Are Koch - 911 Responder

The Gift of a Second Chance

How David Koch's support of cancer research helped save the life of a 9/11 first responder.

Just after 8:46 a.m.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, firefighter Niels Jorgensen of Brooklyn’s Ladder Company 114 received an urgent radio call. He was to report to the firehouse immediately for a total recall — the first of its kind to be issued in the city in over 30 years.

Soon after arriving, Jorgensen learned he and his fellow firefighters were to commandeer a New York City public bus, drive it over the Brooklyn Bridge and converge on the scene of the worst attack on U.S. soil in American history.

"All I could think to myself was, my god, America is under attack."

As the bus raced into downtown Manhattan a chaotic scene was unfolding. A second hijacked airliner had slammed into the 60th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center, tearing a gaping hole in the building and setting it afire.

With a fire now raging through the 80th floor of the second 110-story skyscraper, emergency responders began working feverishly to evacuate the building. As New Yorkers raced to escape the city, Jorgensen’s team from Ladder 114 was barreling head-on into the nightmare.

As they neared ground zero, 32-year-old Jorgensen caught sight of the north tower just as it began to collapse from the top down. The voices of fellow firefighters that had been blaring over the radio, including Jorgensen’s childhood best friend John Schardt of Engine 201, went silent. New York’s World Trade Center had been reduced into a tremendous cloud of debris, smoke and wreckage. Four hundred firefighters on the scene perished.

Over the next few months, Jorgensen joined hundreds of sodden rescue workers every day, as they dug through the heaps of ash and twisted metal searching for survivors and victims.

Moved to Help

While Jorgensen and thousands of other first responders worked the scene in Lower Manhattan, longtime resident of the city of New York, former executive vice president of Koch Industries, David H. Koch, also witnessed the horror. Ultimately, the tragic events of that day made such an impact on Mr. Koch, that he and his wife donated $1 million to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. His support helps fund important educational programs for young visitors to the museum.

But Mr. Koch’s generosity extends far beyond the museum. In fact Koch has personally donated more than $1.3 billion to charitable organizations across New York City and beyond, $686 million of which directly benefits cancer research and medical facilities. This includes a $66.7 million donation to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, $20 million to the David H. Koch Cancer Research Center at Johns Hopkins University, $26.5 million to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and $195 million to MIT to create the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Mr. Koch’s passion for cancer research came after his own personal diagnosis with prostate cancer in 1992. For the next 10 years, Mr. Koch was treated with radiation, surgery, hormones and most recently, with experimental drug Abiraterone, that he says worked like a miracle drug.

The Thank You Letter

During the summer of 2014, 13 years after 9/11, a letter arrived at Koch Industries’ company headquarters in Wichita, Kansas. It was addressed to David Koch.

“I was employed as a New York City firefighter for 21 years and responded to the attack upon the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001,” the letter began. It further detailed Jorgensen’s service to the city of New York following the 9/11 attacks and thanked Mr. Koch personally for his life-saving financial donations.

Long after the fires of 9/11 ceased to burn, now Lieutenant Niels Jorgensen, fell ill with a severe bronchial and sinus infection. When Jorgensen’s doctor was unable to pinpoint the cause, he was sent to New York Methodist Hospital where he checked in as a critical-care patient. By the summer of 2011, he was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer.

Hairy cell leukemia is so rare that only 500 individuals in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year. But in less than a year, six 9/11 rescuers had also been diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia.

“The oncologists that treated me had come from the cancer teaching hospitals of New York City, including Sloan-Kettering and New York Presbyterian,” said Jorgensen. Similarly to what Mr. Koch experienced years before, Jorgensen received a revolutionary new cancer treatment that gave him a second chance at life.

“What was conveyed to me by one of my oncologists was that I was very lucky,” he explained. “Recent advances in cancer research and treatments allowed me a very good chance at beating my cancer.”

In a July 2014 interview with The Wichita Eagle, David Koch explained his hope for people to understand that he tries hard to add good to the world and how he wants his children to do the same.

“I hope one of my legacies will be that David Koch made the world a better place,” he said.

Surely, Niels Jorgensen would agree that Mr. Koch has.

“If I had the same cancer 20 years ago, my chances of survival would be quite slim,” he said. “Before being diagnosed, I wasn’t aware of donations like Mr. Koch’s, but afterwards I said to myself, there is someone who is giving hundreds of millions of dollars toward a cause that saved my life."

"And for that, I am grateful."