Flushing chiropractor treats rescuers’ pain

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Dr. Sean Cotter finds that he cannot keep away from the Spirit of New York, a leisure ship.

But the Spirit is not a Carnival Cruise ship, and Cotter’s view is not of palm trees. Instead, the ship is docked across from the mountain of rubble that was the World Trade Center.

Cotter is a doctor of chiropractic who works out of the Family Chiropractic Center in Flushing and Northern Astoria Chiropractic as well as at Northern Brooklyn Chiropractic. A resident of Nassau county, he is one of several chiropractors who give care aboard the Spirit to the hundreds of rescue workers and clean-up crews who toil in the remains of the Trade Center.

“It’s backbreaking work,” said Cotter of the workers. “They’re not in need of medical care, they’re in need of muscular care.”

Since the terrorist attack that ended in the collapse of the Twin Towers, Cotter has spent most of his spare time helping rescue and recovery workers, many of whom experience serious back pain after long hours moving tons of wreckage with their bare hands.

For Cotter, the desire to help out at the World Trade Center is more than just good will. He worked in Maspeth as a member of Hazardous Materials 1, the city’s only hazardous materials fire company, for more than 10 years. The World Trade Center disaster hit Haz Mat 1 particularly hard.

“They lost 12 from Haz Mat alone,” said Cotter. “And in the sister company, they lost seven. Some of my good friends were killed. I knew basically all of them.”

Cotter wears his Fire Department shirt while working on the Spirit in order to be “more approachable” to the firemen whom he treats. He looks back on his time as a fireman with fondness.

“I loved it,” he said. “It’s a great job — it’s just a very dangerous job.”

Cotter is offering free chiropractic services at his clinics as well as to any rescue and recovery workers, survivors and families who lost loved ones. His colleague, John McAtamney, a doctor of chiropractic, is also participating in the free services.

Although he originally quit the Fire Department in order to spend more time with his wife and children, Cotter is debating returning in order to help with the Fire Department’s manpower shortage.

“At this point, I’m considering going back,” he said. “They are hurting right now. They need people.”

At the same time, Cotter now finds his work as a chiropractor more important than ever.

“It’s probably the most gratifying experience of my professional life,” he said. “You don’t get phone calls, you’re serving people. It’s done a lot for me, personally and professionally. I have a better understanding of what I got into this profession for.”

Cotter sees his volunteerism as a form of giving thanks to the firemen. He made his way through chiropractic school while working for the Fire Department. Many of the men who swapped tours with Cotter so he could go to class during the week are most likely lost in the rubble.

“These guys who died, they put me through school,” said Cotter. “They worked day tours for me.”

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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