Since being buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center — twice — and later injured in the Iraq war, Gregory Amira has suffered from migraines, panic attacks and sometimes relies on a cane to get around.
But with the help of the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to helping severely injured service members, he has begun to cope with his injuries and experiences.
Now, Amira, 40, wants to help other wounded veterans get the same help.
"They teach you that there's no stopping you," said Amira, of Trinity, who has organized a Dade City fundraiser this weekend to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. "It's you that stops yourself."
• • •
Amira was on the 44th floor of World Trade Center Tower 2 when the first tower was hit.
He ran into the lobby, thinking he could help.
"That's where I saw the most injured coming from," he said.
Then came a loud rumble. The lights flashed and Amira was covered in rubble.
He woke in the dark, surrounded by bodies. A firefighter moved him to a supposedly safe place, where he was again buried when the second tower fell.
The next few hours he remembers in just flashes: an ambulance, an oxygen mask, a tube inserted down his throat.
His head had been burned and injured in the attacks. The former Morgan Stanley vice president suffered from seizures and could no longer concentrate on numbers, let alone a picture in a magazine.
He had panic attacks on the subway and thought terrorists were after him. Amira found it hard to keep up with his three weekly appointments with psychologists. They eventually gave up on him, he said.
• • •
In May 2005, Amira moved to New Port Richey where his mother lived.
Several months later, a letter arrived in the mail. The Army had activated his Reserve unit. It was time to go to Iraq.
As a student at the University of South Florida in the early 1990s, Amira joined the Army Reserve to honor his great uncle Ralph Amira, who died in combat during World War II.
After the 9/11 attacks, Amira was sure he would get a medical discharge. But in April 2006, he shipped off to Diyala province, which at the time was nearly as violent as Baghdad.
It was his first time in combat, he said, "Other than growing up in the streets of Brooklyn."
In January 2007, a roadside bomb exploded under another Humvee in his convoy, killing the driver instantly. Amira was in an armored vehicle 150 meters away from the blast and suffered injuries to his back and neck. He spent 13 months at Fort Bragg and has been in and out of hospitals ever since.
• • •
He sometimes needs a cane. He recently underwent surgery on his nose. His migraines are finally under control, but he said his short term memory is shot.
Last year, he hooked up with the Wounded Warrior Project, and through them he learned how to cope with his war experience.
"They introduce you to people who have been a hell of a lot worse injured than you," Amira said.
He has since proposed to his girlfriend, bought a house and is trying to persuade his daughter in New York, 17-year-old Alexis Rae Amira, to attend USF like her dad.
On Saturday, he will host his first fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.
The event will feature re-enactments, military speakers and music.
Families of local servicemen and women killed in action will also be honored, as well as local wounded veterans.
Amira said it will be the first of many fundraisers for the group. He also plans to continue organizing events for wounded veterans in the area.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 435-7312.