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Tuesday April 3rd, 2012

Posted at 3:15pm

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FDNY Firefighter Ralph Geidel (Left) and brother Mike Geidel at Ground Zero 2001

On September 11, 2001, many lives were changed forever. Over 10 years after the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks, the after-effects are still being felt from California to Kingsville.

When 22-year-old Samantha Nicholson visited New York on spring break, she didn’t realize how impactful it would be. Seeing a flyer advertizing a workshop at the Ground Zero museum, Nicholson and her friend Elizabeth decided to experience it in person. What resulted brought the tradgedies from 9-11 into a new perspective for the pair.

“I believe the goal of the museum is to help the families that were affected by September 11 ,” she said. “I think it is a place where they can go to find closure or let their emotions out. The museum is filled with artifacts and pictures taken by the owner, Gary Suson. It’s a place were you can go and listen and look at the real stories of many heroes from that day and innocent peoples lives that were taken.”

The visit change Nicholson’s life. While 9-11 artifacts stuck out to her, it was the specific workshop stories – one in particular – that affected the nursing student the most.

Sitting at home in Northern California on 9-11, retired FDNY Firefighter Ralph Geidel watched in horror as his brother was killed in the WTC attacks. Gary P. Geidel, a member of FDNY’s Rescue Co. 1, was among many who died that day. As events unfolded, Ralph made a four-day trek to New York to help search and rescue efforts. Before leaving, he told his wife he’d return in a few weeks – it wasn’t until after nine months, 2,300 hours at ground zero and hundreds of bodies were recovered that he came home.

While retrieving many people’s remains gave closure to several families, Gary’s body was never found.

Only 14 months after returning home, Ralph was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. At 45-years-old, surgery was required to remove 45 limph nodes, his right tonsil and part of his tongue: The retired firefighter also underwent seven-weeks of radiation therapy on his tongue and neck. As a result, Ralph was left with one salivary gland, causing extreme dry mouth, tooth damage and loss. Because of radiation therapy, many dentists refuse to do the work required to fix these complications.

While his insurance covered some treatment, Ralph still faces $100,000 in medical bills. Since cancer isn’t covered under the 9-11 health insurance act, he won’t receive compensation either.

“Ralphs story sent chills down my spine and tears to my eyes,” said Nicholson. “The dedication he had at ground zero was just amazing …Ralph spent 9 months helping at ground zero , searching through the rubble , looking for the remains of complete strangers as well as his brother – then to be diagnosed with stage four throat cancer (he never smoked a day in his life) 14-months-later and not be covered by the insurance offered to the heros of 9-11 is pathetic. It made me so angry!”

As other stories were told that day, Nicholson couldn’t get Ralph’s off her mind. Instead of letting it go, she became driven to do something. Organizing a fundraiser at the Fogolar Furlan Centre (1800 North Service Rd.,) she has sent out over 600 e-mails to people in the U.S. and Essex county, travelled across the area for three days and even contacted Ellen and Oprah, looking for help in any form.

Taking place on Friday, May 18, the semi-formal dinner event will have all you can eat penne, salad, chicken, potatos and dinner rolls with drinks available at a cash bar. Cake will be served after dinner and a live DJ will play some tunes as well. If that wasn’t enough, there will also be a 50/50 draw, silent auction, raffle and door prizes for those attending. Before that, a bull ride night at The Bull ‘n’ Barrel (670 ouellette ave.) will be held on Monday, April 30. An entry fee of $5 or donation is required to enter and each ride will cost $5 – all proceeds will go directly towards paying off Ralph’s medical bills.

Anyone interested in purchasing tickets for the fundraiser can visit the event’s website. Donations can also be made via paypal for people who can’t make it to either event. Anyone looking to take part in the bull ride however is asked to contact Nicholson by April 10 to let her know they’ll be attending.

While the goal is to pay 100-per-cent of Ralph’s medical debts, Nicholson isn’t stopping there. Once that’s been accomplished, she intends to donate additional money to the Ground Zero museum and hopes to hold an annual fundraiser benefitting their charities. Proceeds and donations to the museum will be used to help those at ground zero and their children.

While Ralph can’t attend the fundraiser due to post traumatic stress disorder, Nicholson guarantees she’ll meet him in person one day. Hoping to present him with his cheque, she has her reasons for helping Ralph however – meeting the retired firefighter doesn’t factor into them.

“I know I am just a 22-year-old student but I know that I can make a difference in his life,” said Nicholson. “I am the type of person who puts everyone before my self , I think we are all put on earth for a purpose and my purpose in life is to help people – whether I know them or not. Everyone keeps asking me how I know Ralph and I answer I don’t. The look on their faces just amazes me. Why do I need to know him? I just know that he deserves the help and that I can try to do that for him , even though he is a complete stranger to me.

Nicholson’s story (in her own words) can be found here. Those who are interested in donating raffle or silent auction prizes can also contact her through the fundraiser’s website or do so via facebook.

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