9/11 violinist dies for want of US health care

9/11 violinist dies for want of US health care


norman lebrecht

November 06, 2019

The New York Times has a chilling obituary of Marya Columbia, a violinist who rushed to the 9/11 devastation scene to bring comfort and music to rescuers and survivors. She joined an ad hoc string quartet at St Paul’s Chapel and played there every Monday morning for nine months.

No-one gave the musicians masks to wear.

Sam Roberts reports: In mid-2018, Ms. Columbia developed a persistent cold. X-rays disclosed a tumor in her lung. Ms. Columbia’s smoking habit may well have contributed to her disease, but doctors suggested that the lung tumor, which metastasized to her brain, also may have been related to toxins she inhaled near the World Trade Center site.

She was initially refused free care as a responder under the World Trade Center Health Program.

Marya died on October 23, aged 63.

Read the full obit here.

And a background piece by her niece here.

Marya had a varied freelance career as principal second violinist at Saratoga Opera, regular player at New York City Opera and teacher at the Bronx Conservatory. She studied at Mannes and Peabody.

photo: St Paul Chapel on 9/11


  • Doug says:

    It’s been 18 years. You could also claim that the US healthcare system kept a SMOKER who inhaled toxic debris ALIVE for an additional 18 years. Sheesh.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Please; don’t rob people of their victimhood.

      This poor woman has died, as we all must. It’s what happens in LIFE that’s important.

  • Pat Tatum says:

    I think it is the Saratoga Opera. There is much speculation in this article.

    • Ron Fletcher says:

      She was principle second with the NYC Opera’s national company for a decade or more as well as the same for Saratoga. It’s like a game of telegraph with the details…sorry about that!

  • PaulD says:

    The headline is misleading. She was a smoker, and she chose to go without health insurance for a period of time.

    • Ron Fletcher says:

      She ‘chose’ to go without health insurance? Yes she was a 10 cigarette a day smoker but the 2000 tons of asbestos and many other substances in the air in our neighborhood that the government lied about certainly didn’t help you moron. She’s barely cold.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        EVERYTHING is the government’s fault. Including death. Why in the world would you advocate for bigger government? When it’s not working for you stop doing it!!!

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Also stage fog in the Broadway shows she subbed. Stage for has a similar molecular structure to antifreeze.

  • Ron Fletcher says:

    I’m Marya Columbia’s husband. She was not denied help, it was just slow to get certified. When one has a fast moving cancer the delays and the burden it puts on the family are problematic. To the credit of both Senator Gillibrand and Senator Schumer’s offices, they were very effective with their aid. Thanks to both offices!

    • Bone says:

      Condolences for your loss. She sounds like a truly wonderful person and musician.

    • Lisa Bressler says:

      Ron, I am so sorry for your loss. A loss to everybody. I briefly knew Marya when I was getting started in New York and she was friendly, funny, and gracious. I am proud to have known her, however briefly. My deepest condolences to you.

    • Christiane Pors says:

      So sorry for your loss. Marya and I used to work together on gigs and teaching in the 80’s. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her, but remember her well as a lovely person with a ready smile and positive attitude for all. Sending love and support.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Please accept my condolences, Mr. Fletcher.
      Marya’s musical gift to those survivors and rescuers of 9/11 was selfless and touching.
      A truly honorable woman, in this age of dishonor.

    • Kevin says:

      I’m so very sorry for your loss. Thank you for writing in and setting the record straight for us. May she rest in peace.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you for the correction. Please accept my condolences. Such a shame you had to get senators involved to achieve what many would consider a basic human right.

      • Ron says:

        One other misconception here is that we HAD health insurance. A person cannot apply to the WTCHealth Program if you do not have health insurance. It seemed a little useless frankly.

    • Blair Tindall says:

      Ron, I’m so terribly sorry and my heart goes out to you. I met Marya in 1979 whenwe were both charter members in American Philharmonic; she was often in my Hudson Valley Phil carpool for years. She was the loveliest, sweetest person and a great player. I am honored to have known her and made music together.

      For non-Americans, understand that health insurance premiums cost at least US$7,000 annually,
      And you must pay
      out of pocket for most services in addition, until you’ve paid another $6-9,000 when the deductible kicked in. Most musicians cannot cover that. (Full time jobs covered
      by our labor union are ok though).

      Marya barely smoked, nowhere remotely close to what one sees in the UK and elsewhere on other continents. She was small,
      slim, and watched her health carefully.

      In Marya’s position, even if she did have self-pay insurance, her care adds up to &15,000 or more. We are in dire straits here in America and Marya’s passing illustrates that clearly., She was not quite old enough to collect her social security,
      Which is a fund to which she contributed. It would have been HER money, not a handout.,

      Because of my TV show, I can cover my
      Medical expenses. Few freelancers can.

      Some of the comments here are relentlessly cruel. Marya
      the kindest and most generous person. This is a himan being of the first order. Any one of you have been lucky to know her. I was.

  • Dennis says:

    A lot of generalizations and assumptions there. Lung cancer diagnosed in 2018 “may have been related” to WTC toxins from 2001, and her smoking only “may well have contributed.” Lots of other things may well have contributed also.

  • Sharon says:

    But it’s just a shame that one needs the influence of a U.S. senator to get health coverage, and especially when it may be related to Good Samaritan work!

    It is also disgusting that someone is slow to be certified for care when he/she has a fast moving cancer, or even the possibility of one.

    It’s even more of a shame that in the United States this is not considered a “chilling” story as it would be in any other developed country but just business as usual in the health care industry in the United States.

    Actually, MANY, MANY Americans are far worse off then Ms. Columbia who have illnesses that are not paid for by the 9/11 fund and are not savvy enough to contact US senators or who have US senators who are so conservative that their offices have little interest in helping their constituents obtain government health benefits.

    I have a friend who has serious health problems and half of her supplemental social security payments (a form of welfare, not insurance, for disabled people) go to health costs in spite of having medicaid which is very stingy for many health problems. Now that the Trump government wants to monitor the Facebook and Google list servs accounts of supplemental social security payees to determine if they are scamming she is afraid to post anything for fear she may seem healthier than she is based on what she says about her activities and a bureaucrat would then cut off her benefits

    Although she MIGHT be able to get benefits restored through an appeals process, this process is slow, and not having payments in the meantime would mean that she would be unable to pay for her healthcare which she believes could ultimately lead to her death.

    I believe that there recently was a study that estimated that about 40000 Americans a year die because they do not have adequate health insurance or do not have health insurance at all. Now that’s chilling!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      It’s a HUGE problem the world over. Medical costs are absolutely spiralling out-of-control and it’s the ultimate paradox that a cure is more likely than ever but also not because of the cost. Reminds you of the mirage in the desert; the thirsty traveller moves faster towards the chimera only to die in the process.

    • Me! says:

      Medicaid covers all medical expenses. (other than dental).

      • V. Lind says:

        But who is eligible for Medicaid? Certainly not everyone. MILLIONS of Americans have no coverage or are severely undercovered.

        The civilised countries of the developed world have universal health care. Yes, costs are high, which is why the civilised countries of the developed world are willing to pay taxes. But in no other developed country is health care treated as a business first. For the US, profit trumps all. HMOs decline coverage on the flimsiest of excuses. Big Pharma pressures academics to provide them the results they want.

        Americans go bankrupt just trying to get themselves treated for illness or accident. It’s a disgrace.

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Marya was not old enough for Medicaid.

  • Sharon says:

    For once I agree with Sue. The main reasons that health care costs are spiraling is Big Pharma which pays huge amounts on advertising and also at least in the US is the industry with one of the largest profit margin, large medical malpractice costs (Even conservatives in the US believe that malpractice laws need to be revived. However, without adequate government benefits people need malpractice payouts to support themselves). Another factor is that hospital personnel are now paid decent wages. Prior to the early sixties medical residents were paid almost nothing and the hospitals were largely staffed by nursing students who were paid nothing except free room and board. This was possible because medical school costs were reasonable and nursing schools were free. Now that medical residents and fellows are paying huge student loans to pay their $60000 per year tuition they need real salaries $50000 per year and up.
    There are also high administrative costs and lots of bureaucratic personnel at insurance companies trying to determine who is eligible for what

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Compared to other countries, the US system is hugely expensive for not particularly good coverage. Britain, in contrast, is “cheap and cheerful” and covers everybody.