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9/11 first responder Luis Alvarez who testified before Congress dies

In his searing appearance before lawmakers, Luis Alvarez called himself "lucky" to be able to undergo endless chemotherapy.
/ Source: TODAY

Luis Alvarez, the retired police officer who appeared before Congress on the eve of his 69th round of chemotherapy to plead for continued health benefits for 9/11 first responders, has died.

His death Saturday was confirmed to NBC News by Matthew McCauley, a retired NYPD officer who is Alvarez's lawyer and friend.

"It is with peace and comfort, that the Alvarez family announce that Luis (Lou) Alvarez, our warrior, has gone home to our Good Lord in heaven today. Please remember his words, 'Please take care of yourselves and each other,'" his family said in a statement released Saturday.

Alvarez was 53. He is survived by his wife and three sons, ages 14, 19 and 29.

"My legacy to them is dad did his best. Never quit, no matter how hard things got. Dad never quit," Alvarez told WNBC-TV after entering hospice care in June.

"I told them: You start a job, you finish it. Your word is your bond, and be a man, always be a man about it."

When terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Alvarez — a former U.S. Marine and New York Police Department bomb squad detective — raced to the scene and spent weeks at Ground Zero looking for survivors and human remains.

In 2016, Alvarez was diagnosed with colorectal cancer that had spread to his liver, his son told the New York Daily News.

It was one of thousands of cancer cases linked to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. First responders breathed in pulverized dust that contained cement, asbestos, lead, glass fibers, dioxins and other chemicals after the towers collapsed.

Alvarez had to receive chemo every two weeks, a brutal regimen that had bought him time with his family that many other stricken responders weren't able to get, Alvarez explained during his appearance before a House subcommittee on June 11.

He testified alongside Jon Stewart to make sure a fund to compensate victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks doesn't run out of money.

"I should not be here with you, but you made me come," Alvarez quietly but fiercely told a House subcommittee.

"You all said you would never forget. Well, I'm here to make sure that you don't."

Strikingly gaunt, ashen and frail, Alvarez received a standing ovation from the crowd.

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His 69th round of chemo — scheduled for the next day — never took place. As he was about to receive the treatment, the nurse noticed he was disoriented, Alvarez wrote on Facebook on June 19. Tests showed his liver had shut down because of the tumors. There was nothing else the doctors could do, so Alvarez started hospice care.

Two weeks after his testimony, a group of his fellow 9/11 first responders gave his badge to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Image: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart Testifies On Need To Reauthorize The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund
Alvarez received a standing ovation after his testimony during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on June 11.Zach Gibson / Getty Images

In his final days, Alvarez continued to urge lawmakers to reauthorize the 9/11 victims' fund.

"That's my ultimate goal, legacy, to have this bill passed so first responders have the coverage they need," Alvarez told WNBC. "I can still work from my bedside, I can still put the word out."

He worried about more people getting sick as time went on, noting it took many years for his cancer to develop following the 2001 terrorist attacks. Still, he had no regrets about working at Ground Zero.

Alvarez’s story and powerful testimony to help his fellow 9/11 first responders — showing up on Capitol Hill even as he was gravely ill — prompted widespread messages of support.