Image: Clinton, Borja
Haraz N. Ghanbari  /  AP
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton appears with Ceasar Borja Jr. before the State of the Union address. “My father is a symbol of those in need, in desperation,” Borja Jr. said.
updated 1/23/2007 9:39:07 PM ET 2007-01-24T02:39:07

A former New York policeman died Tuesday night as his 21-year-old son prepared to appear at the State of the Union address to symbolize the desperate health problems of some Sept. 11 workers.

Cesar Borja, 52, had been in intensive care, breathing through a tube, at Mount Sinai Medical Center, awaiting a lung transplant.

His son, college student Ceasar Borja Jr., was invited by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to attend President Bush’s speech as a reminder of workers who were stricken with a host of illnesses after exposure to toxic World Trade Center debris.

The younger Borja learned of his father’s death in a phone call while eating dinner around 6:30 p.m. EST. He still planned to attend the speech, which was scheduled to begin 2 1/2 hours later.

Earlier in the day, the son spoke of the strains on his family, and with a sense of foreboding about the future of his father, and other sick ground zero workers.

“It’s a very emotional time, and it’s very difficult,” said Ceasar Borja Jr. “My father is a symbol of those in need, in desperation.”

The Hunter College student said he came to Washington to make the point that there are many others whose lives are threatened by their exposure at ground zero.

“9/11 is not over. It didn’t end in 2001. It is still affecting my father and numerous other first responders,” he said. “My father is an extreme example of what can happen and what may and will happen in the future.”

Clinton and other New York lawmakers have been urging the government for years to pay for treating Sept. 11-related illnesses.

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