Next Friday 7 July is Action Mesothelioma Day, which aims to raise awareness of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
To mark the awareness day, Cardiff-based law firm Hugh James has co-sponsored an event being held by Asbestos Awareness and Support Cymru (A.A.S.C) – a local support group for victims of asbestos-related diseases, their families and their carers.
Held from 2 pm on 7 July at the Senedd in Cardiff, the event will include a dove release in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to the disease, before presentations and afternoon tea.
Hugh James works with many mesothelioma patients in Wales to help them secure financial support for their families, who are left devastated by the consequences of the deadly disease. One such person is former carpenter Keith Gardner, 67, from Newport, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in December 2015 – a result of exposure to asbestos through his work at a carpentry firm.
He initially spoke out about his disease in an interview with the South Wales Argus in 2016. At that time he had just been forced to retire early and found walking and simple tasks difficult due to breathlessness.
However, since this May, Keith’s health has sadly rapidly deteriorated further – within one week he became largely confined to his bed, needing to use a commode. He now takes oxygen to relieve extreme breathlessness, finding movement of any kind exceptionally difficult. Poignantly, a year on, he now requires constant care which is provided by a team of district nurses.
“There’s nothing anyone can do, I’m not getting better,” said Keith, who talks frankly and openly about his condition.
“My illness got worse so quickly. I had struggled with breathlessness for quite some time, but now it’s so bad that if I walk even for a few seconds to sit on the commode I have to put my oxygen mask on as I’m so out of breath. The things that you take for granted, like walking or moving around the house, get taken away from you.
Keith had initially planned to retire at 70, but at 66 was forced to hang up his boots early due to his ill health. He said: “I worked hard all my life and really looked forward to retirement, which is supposed to be the best years of your life. But that’s all been taken away from me because of my illness.”
Represented by Hugh James solicitors, Keith pursued compensation from his former employer and has recently settled his claim for an undisclosed sum.
Keith said: “When I die, my state pension stops and my wife will be left to live on her own. My claim means she’ll have enough when I’m not there, and will also help with my daughter’s wedding this July. I can’t use the money to enjoy my retirement, but it will make sure everyone’s alright.”
Keith decided to speak out to help raise awareness of the condition and call for caution over asbestos exposure.
“Safety is much better now than it was when I was working and exposed to asbestos,” he added. “If there’s a danger of asbestos these days, places get shut down and the asbestos gets removed safely. There was none of that when I was working, but people still need to take care – you can’t say you won’t ever get what I’ve got.”
“Unfortunately there are more and more mesothelioma cases every year, as a result of people being exposed to asbestos many years ago through their work. Despite this, mesothelioma receives only a fraction of the research funding that other forms of cancer do, which means the outlook for those who have it isn’t good at the moment.
“We can’t cure people but we can help them access funding to help them in living with the disease, and also to support themselves but also their families, who have to face the dreadful prospect of losing a loved one.”
“We’re incredibly proud to mark Action Mesothelioma Day once again by supporting Asbestos Awareness and Support Cymru, whose work makes such a difference to victims and their families, following devastating news.”