Millionaire New Yorker Still Vulnerable After 9/11 Experience

A businessman's account of his experience of the 9/11 shock and the subsequent psychological distress.

Tommy Gallagher was a vice chairman of CIBC, an investment banking subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and a millionaire, when his life changed forever on September 11, 2011.

That morning he was having a managerial meeting at his office on 200 Liberty St, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

As the entire floor evacuated, Gallagher, though nervous, was still on his computer, trying to hedge an investment. “Chicago was still open,” he told The Christian Post. He was the last person on the floor to leave. What he encountered on the street gave him a shock he’s still fighting to overcome today.

“There were two women on their knees, crying. People jumping out the windows,” he told CP. “They looked like paper, floating. After a while they just completely lost their identity and looked like paper.”

Still, for a while, Gallagher thought that this would be something to be contained by the fire department, and that they would still come back to work.

The reality turned out very different.

After the horrors experienced on that day, an emotionally-drained Gallagher had to go back to work. He lost composure while talking to his Canadian superiors 30 days later, and lost his profitable job. It was at that time that he came to realize that the 9/11 experience has done something to his spirit. He no longer controlled his emotions.

“People in Canada just didn’t have a concept of what was going on here. Unless you were here, you didn’t know what it was like,” he said.

After losing his job, Gallagher sacrificed his life to charity. He became a worker for a suicide hotline, and has also run in the New York Marathon. However, staying away from the stressful work environment did not completely heal the trauma.

He even joined a group of mutual support, called Tiger 21.

The scars of what he witnessed a decade ago still affect him today: “I have to see my shrink again today,” he mentions casually during a conversation with CP. “Yesterday I started crying in the middle of a conversation. I don’t even know why.”

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene mentions stress disorders as one of the common symptoms occurring among people exposed to the 9/11 attacks.

“Most people exposed to the WTC attack showed some signs of stress in the immediate and short-term aftermath of the event. This is a normal reaction that usually disappears in a few weeks. Some people, however, continue to experience stress or their symptoms worsen, even years after the WTC attacks,” says the department’s website.

“What happened to me was a result of the stresses,” Gallagher told CP. “First because of the buildings going down, and later because there was no empathy from my managers in Canada. They thought we could just put the business back together and not deal with the stress of 9/11. They didn’t know how difficult it was to deal with things.”