Page last updated at 09:33 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 10:33 UK

Rapid decline of a healthy worker

By Andy McFarlane
BBC News

Tom King: 'I wasn't aware of the risks'

Some 4,000 people a year are dying from the effects of asbestos, the Health and Safety Executive has said.

Well into his 60s, carpenter Tom King was an active tradesman who regularly carried heavy timber, steel joists and scaffolding.

But within weeks of developing agonising chest pains, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given just 18 months to live.

Two years on, the 65-year-old is still battling the illness and able to enjoy his five grandchildren.

But simple tasks like climbing the stairs or tying his shoelaces leave him fighting for breath.

His problems stem from his time as a 15-year-old trainee for Greenwich-based Grant and Partners.

The firm, no longer in business, was refurbishing Courage & Barclay pubs around London and one of his jobs was to cut and fit fire-proof asbestos boarding.

"I had no idea it was dangerous and neither did my governors at the time," said Mr King, from south-east London.

"About 10 years ago, I took off a few old corrugated asbestos cement roofs but by then I knew how to wrap it up and damp it down to make it safe."

Mr King said being told he had mesothelioma, a type of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs, came as a complete shock.

I can't even get on the floor to play with my grandchildren
Tom King

"I was pretty active until I suddenly got a pain in my chest when I lay down in bed," said the father-of-four.

When prescription painkillers failed to help, he was referred to hospital where a half-litre of fluid was drained from one lung but a bronchoscopy revealed nothing.

Only after a specialist referral did he discover the extent of a problem that - having taken 50 years to develop - would lead to his rapid deterioration.

"When the doctor said I had mesothelioma, I said 'what's that?'. Until recently, not many people had heard of it.

"Now I can't even get on the floor to play with my grandchildren. I used to play the odd round of golf but I can't swing any more."

Several sessions of chemotherapy and an operation to remove the affected lung helped extend his life expectancy and Mr King is philosophical about the time he has left.

Concerns for colleagues

"I'm a member of the National Trust and I can walk short distances on the flat, so I often visit their parks. And I'm going to be a grandfather again shortly, so I'm really looking forward to that," said Mr King.

"If I go round being depressed, then that's just time wasted so I try to be as happy as I can. I have a wonderful family and friends."

However, he does worry about those who have followed him into the trades.

"I don't think people are aware of the risks from asbestos," he said.

"It's still in a lot of old buildings and not just in fire-proofing but decorative ceilings and so many other things that people don't realise.

"What makes me angry is that you can't sue the companies that manufactured it."


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