Asbestos From Many Sources

Mesothelioma is known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. When asbestos is inhaled, it becomes imbedded in the lung lining or pleura. Many mesothelioma patients worked in asbestos mines or in locations, such as shipyards or construction sites, where asbestos dust was common and could be easily inhaled. For this patient's story, he never worked in a shipyard or other places where asbestos dust was common. The exposure to asbestos leading to the development of mesothelioma is unknown.

This patient was a fit and athletic man in his mid-forties. He had recently moved from Virginia to San Francisco, where he had been appointed as a high level executive in a San Francisco based office. He spent his spare time in activities including long-distance cycling, canoeing and road racing (he had completed two marathons). Shortly after he moved to Northern California, he and his family were spending time camping in and exploring the Big Sur area of the California coast. This is when he first noticed the pain in his side. Although he tried to ignore it, the pain persisted and soon his breathing became labored. In April 1997, he was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma, or a cancer of unknown origin.

In November of 1998, the doctors confirmed the worst possible diagnosis: mesothelioma cancer. The man learned that he had contracted a deadly disease, and that this disease had a mortality rate of 100%. The next four years were a struggle against this very persistent foe.

In January 1999, only two months after the confirmatory diagnosis, this patient underwent a twelve hour operation to remove the lining, or pleura, or his left lung and as much of the ever-expanding cancer tumor that could safely be removed. A year later he moved back to Virginia into a house near the coast. He once had been a long distance runner and cyclist, now he could hardly walk the two blocks to the beach without becoming exhausted.

Typically, mesothelioma patients die within a year of the disease onset. This patient was determined to fight it and enrolled in a clinical trial at Duke University for mesothelioma treatments. Initially the cocktail of anti-cancer medications, combined with the radiation therapy, seemed to halt the spread of the mesothelioma cancer cells. But after a short reprieve, the cancer again rapidly expanded.

Shortly after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, this patient met with a group of lawyers. This legal team questioned him extensively to determine the source of the asbestos exposure. He had never worked in an asbestos mine or plant or in an area where asbestos dust was common, such as a shipyard or construction site. However, his father had worked in the shipyards and had come home with asbestos dust on his clothes. But others in his family had not contracted the disease, and it was hard to determine if this asbestos exposure had lead to his condition.

He had also worked on model cars as a younger man, doing his own brake work. Brake pads at that time were lined with asbestos. Additionally, he could have been exposed to asbestos when he worked in an auto parts store, where brake work was also done. But since there is limited scientific knowledge concerning the levels of asbestos required to cause mesothelioma, the source of the deadly disease for this man remains unknown.

In March 2001, he passed away. He had received a large legal settlement for the mesothelioma injury he had incurred, but this settlement could not replace his health or the loss to his wife, family and friends.


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