Tattoos Help Survivors and First Responders Cope with 9/11 Trauma

Tom Canavan shows off a new tattoo on his right arm. It depicts the Twin Towers along with the word “Survivor.”
Tom Canavan and his new tattoo. Photo by Jin Lee, 9/11 Memorial.

For survivors and first responders, there’s no clear path to healing after the life-changing trauma of 9/11. Some take to art, exercise or charity.

But now a collective of tattoo artists is helping survivors and first responders cope with their physical and emotional pain in a new way – with tattoos.

The Healing Ink Project, an organization that helps survivors of terror and war manage the lingering wounds left from violence with tattoos, held a recent event in New York for 9/11 survivors and first responders.

Participants in the event included Tom Canavan, who survived being trapped under the debris of the Twin Towers and is now a facilities dispatcher at the 9/11 Memorial. Having lived with through 9/11, he told ABC 7 New York, he sees a tattoo as a way to ensure that the world remembers the significance of the attacks.

“Without ever saying a word to anyone, just by showing [this tattoo],” Canavan said, “they're going to know. And they're going to think of 9/11, and it will stay in their conscience.”

Many trauma survivors see a tattoo as a symbol of their pain as well as their perseverance.

"I know tattoos heal people because I've seen it happen," tattoo artist Virginia Elwood said. "They healed me, so I know it will work."

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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