Carpenter and joiner Keith Gardner’s hopes of a long, happy retirement have been brutally dashed by asbestos-related cancer, the South Wales Argus reported today.
The 67-year-old, from Newport planned to lay down his tools at 70, but had to retire last year. Now he is almost bed-bound with incurable mesothelioma, which often develops decades after exposure to asbestos.
Mr Gardner’s health has worsened rapidly. He suffers extreme breathlessness, needs oxygen, and finds movement very difficult. He relies for his care on the love and dedication of his family and a team of district nurses.
His time is short, but to mark Action Mesothelioma Day today, he confronts the disease that is robbing him of his future.
Around 2,500 people a year in the UK die of mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos.
The annual toll may be peaking, but many thousands more such deaths are expected over coming decades. Mr Gardner, who fears many more are suffering and will suffer like him, said;
“There’s nothing anyone can do, I’m not getting better. My illness got worse so quickly. If I walk even for a few seconds I have to put on my oxygen mask. Things you take for granted, like walking or moving around the house, get taken away.”
Mr Gardner plied his trade for almost 50 years, working for companies, or for himself. He did not work with asbestos all the time, but when he did, he and colleagues would “cut it, or rip it up with our hands.”
“Safety is much better now than it was when I was working. These days, places shut down and asbestos is 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.”
With specialist help from Cardiff-based Hugh James Solicitors, Mr Gardner has settled a legal claim against a former employer, for an undisclosed sum, a bittersweet but important achievement.
“My wife will have enough when I’m not there, and it will also help with my daughter’s wedding this month. I can’t use the money to enjoy my retirement, but it will make sure everyone’s all right.”
Hugh James Solicitors is co-sponsoring an event at the Senedd in Cardiff at 2pm today, run by support group Asbestos Awareness and Support Cymru.
Richard Green, of the firm’s industrial disease team, said more cases come to light every year, but mesothelioma receives only a fraction of research funding compared to other cancers.