SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - An Ohio man visiting family in San Diego received a sobering diagnosis he believes is linked to his work after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Just before Halloween, Bryan Smith, 50, who was suffering from a dry cough, flew from Ohio to San Diego to visit his brothers.
Two weeks later, his cough had gotten worse.
“Also, weakness, lethargy, and dramatic weight loss,” said Smith.
After a trip to the ER and a battery of tests, he received a shocking diagnosis.
“I was terrified. My whole world stopped right there,” said Smith.
Smith was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, which had spread to his lymph nodes and liver.
"It was completely surprising. I’ve never smoked,” said Smith.
The diagnosis was a surprise, but a possible factor could be traced to an event more than two decades ago, the 9/11 terror attacks.
Smith, an officer with the Federal Protective Service, which protects federal buildings, was part of a contingent sent to Washington D.C. to New York, where he patrolled an area 10 blocks from Ground Zero.
“Your uniforms could be covered in ashy soot, a short amount of time after your shift had begun, and you’re breathing it all in,” said Smith.
For three months, he worked without PPE before leaving and volunteering to work in the area for another month.
“I believe there is a strong possibility my diagnosis is linked to my time near Ground Zero,” said Smith.
In the years since the terror attacks, more than 2000 responders and Ground Zero workers have died from illnesses attributed to their service.
Studies have shown higher rates of some cancers among responders.
Smith, who is undergoing oral chemotherapy, says his prognosis is unclear.
“I think we're seeing the scope of this tragedy from 9/11, is long-term and continues,” said Smith.
Smith plans to be in San Diego for at least several more months undergoing treatment.
Smith has signed up for the World Trade Center Health Registry. Last week, he was evaluated by a local doctor, the first step in determining if his diagnosis will be linked to the 9/11 attacks, qualifying him for medical benefits.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help Smith with medical and other expenses.