Geisinger Researcher Talks About 9/11 Experience

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MAHONING TOWNSHIP -- Sunday marks 15 years since terrorists flew two airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City.

When the first plane hit, a man who now works at Geisinger Medical Center near Danville was in the basement of the center.

Joseph Boscarino does research at Geisinger Medical Center and focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder. 15 years ago he led the first research team to put out a study after 9/11. Boscarino knows firsthand about that day because he was there.

Boscarino sat with Newswatch 16 just outside his office at Geisinger Medical Center to discuss one of the worst days of his life: September 11, 2001. Even 15 years later, it's hard for him to talk about.

"This weekend, I was watching the World Trade Center shows that were running, the anniversary shows. I get stressed out again."

That's because Boscarino was in the basement of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. He worked in New York City at the time and took the subway. It had stopped at the World Trade Center just before the first plane hit.

"I heard this noise and this vibration and I wasn't sure what it was. I turned around and I looked down the mezzanine, down the hallway of the subway tunnel, and i saw people running back and forth," he recalled.

The train Boscarino was riding in continued on its way and left the World Trade Center just minutes before deadly debris filled the subway station. When Boscarino got to his office, he found out the noise he heard was the first plane hitting the building.

"I said, 'what?' and I knew this was going to be big and the United States was going to be at war."

Boscarino is a Vietnam veteran so he has experienced trauma.

"This was of a scale that was like biblical, like it was a big disaster movie. I was waiting for someone to say, 'cut, that was a good shot, cut.'"

Within a few days, Boscarino and his coworkers started doing what they did best. They wrote grants to do studies on the terrorist attack. Their first study about post-traumatic stress disorder quickly got funded.

Even though Boscarino threw his time and energy into work, there are certain things he remembers about that day, certain things he saw that are hard to talk about, such as all those photos and posters of people who were missing.

"People all over the side of the building, 'looking for my husband,' you know?"

Boscarino and his team have since published more than 40 research papers on 9/11.

It was like a Godzilla movie or something, a horror movie," he said. "Just the scale of it, it made Vietnam seem much smaller."

Boscarino says he felt helpless. So within a few days, he and his coworkers began writing grants do studies on the traumatic effects of the terrorist attack.

"You learn to control your fear and stress and just go forward."

The team's first study about post-traumatic stress disorder quickly got funded.

"I was kind of the lead on the PTSD part at least, and we wrote these grants that did assessments of New York City," Boscarino explained. "The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was the first one ever done in New York City about 9/11."

Boscarino and his team met with survivors at Ground Zero. They did about 15,000 interviews in an effort to understand PTSD.

"I worked with that data for 10 years. I came to Geisinger in 2005 and I brought the data with me and I worked with it here."

Boscarino calls post-traumatic stress disorder the main mental health problem people face after large-scale traumas. Substance abuse is second. And that's why he has just started research into why so many people get addicted to opiates.