Heartbreaking decision of 9/11 hero firefighter’s widow to destroy IVF samples


IVF samples were all Tillie Geidel had left of her husband Gary, now she will bury them by his tree on the 20th anniversary of the death of the 9/11 hero whose body was never recovered from the ash of the Twin Towers

Gary’s body was never recovered

Holding the box of six IVF phials in her hand, 9/11 widow Tillie Geidel wasn’t sure where to place the final precious physical links to her ­firefighter hero husband Gary nearly 20 years after his death.

His body was never recovered from the ash of the Twin Towers and the samples were “the only thing” she and her daughter, also Tillie, had left of him.

Momentarily storing them in the freezer, she settled on a cabinet filled with personal tributes in Gary’s honour including his firefighter’s helmet.

The mum-of-one, now 55, who knew the samples would be unusable in less than an hour after being removed from cold storage, said: “The dream was finally over, the dream of having another of my husband’s babies was over.”

She plans to bury them under what the family calls “Gary’s tree”, which fruits with apples – new life to remember his.

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An empty coffin and family at Gary’s funeral


NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Gary, 44, had only gone to work on 9/11 to build up overtime payments in the final two weeks before he retired, so his pension income would be boosted.

The couple had always wanted a baby brother for their daughter, who was born through IVF.

The rest of the sperm had been ­cryogenically frozen and kept at a specialist lab.

In the years following the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, Tillie planned to have another baby but was traumatised by Gary’s loss and suffered ­post-traumatic stress disorder.

Tillie stands by Gary’s apple tree


Tillie Geidel)

She also endured serious medical issues, including a rare cancer of the lining of the uterus.

As the 20th ­anniversary beckoned Tillie wrestled about what to do with the samples. She said: “They were in storage. They’d been there for more than 20 years. I decided that I wanted them in my possession.

“They were the only thing me and my daughter had of my husband and her father. I didn’t want them existing – and I wanted them destroyed.

“I didn’t want them to end up in the hands of someone else. You’re never quite sure what might happen in
the future.”

Tillie with Tillie Jnr


Tillie Geidel)

Gary pictured with daughter Tillie Jnr


Tillie Geidel)

Tillie picked up the phone and called the clinic and spoke to a nurse.

“She then spoke to the doctor who actually did the procedure at the time,” she said. “She didn’t know who I was but he did. And he remembered that Gary died on 9/11.

“The doctor kindly said, ‘Just send the samples to her’. I was so thankful.

“It was a spiritual type of thing for me.

Gary and Tillie marry in front of fire engine



“At first they told me I had to go down into Manhattan but I told them that because of my 9/11 post-traumatic stress I couldn’t drive down there.

“So they then got everything ready for me and put it on blocks of ice. They sent it by 24-hour delivery – I tried to track it by number to make sure it was getting to me. I know that they lose packages all the time so I was so anxious. I was worried about what would happen if it ended up in the wrong hands.

“So I’m watching at the window and finally I see the FedEx truck pull up and I went out and I signed for it.

“I grabbed the box and I was crying and crying and hugging it.

Gary doted on Tillie


Tillie Geidel)

“I felt happy and sad at the same time. I was so overwhelmed. It was like receiving a part of him that we were going to mourn.”

She recalled what happened after the FedEx driver left. At first she was too upset to let the samples “die” and placed them in her own freezer.

Later she took them out, off the ice, and placed them into a cabinet containing her husband’s per­­sonal things including his helmet. Within minutes they were no longer viable.

“I unwrapped the box and I had the phials,” she said of their arrival. “I took a moment. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I knew it was only an hour that they could survive.

Gary was a brave father


Tillie Geidel)

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“At first I put them in the freezer – then I took them out and put the phials in a kind of memory box thing. Then I put them in my husband’s cabinet with his fire department things and his jewellery.

“I felt it was the right place. We have an apple tree in our backyard. We call it our Gary tree, our special Gary tree. I was going to bury
them there – I have not yet but I will do.”

Tillie’s daughter Tillie Jr, 27, is going to Ground Zero for the first time on Saturday to hear her dad’s name read out at the ­memorial service.

She has been fully sup­­portive of her mum.

Back in 2002, Tillie gave her only interview – to the Daily Mirror – at the couple’s home in Staten Island about her dream of using the samples and naming the baby Gary Miracle Geidel. Tillie Jr was only eight at the time but remembered us coming to the house.

They decided to follow the plans they had made before Gary’s death and moved upstate. Tillie said: “It was very emotional moving from Staten Island. I felt we had left part of my husband there.

“We are happy up here but the city became too much. 9/11 comes and goes with me. Last year
was really bad, for example, with my PTSD.”

She added: “I don’t think I will be attending the memorial at Ground Zero this year.

“It’s just too painful.”

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