‘We know as­bestos killed Richard – but how?’

The Sunday Post (Inverness) - - NEWS - By Janet Boyle JBOYLE@SUNDAYPOST.COM – An­gela El­liot

Walk­ing his daugh­ter down the aisle, Richard El­liott could not have looked any hap­pier.

The guests would never have guessed just how ill he was – or that his wife was car­ry­ing a let­ter in her hand­bag that no one would ever want to take to a wed­ding.

It was a Do Not Re­sus­ci­tate note from the hos­pi­tal, in case Richard col­lapsed dur­ing his daugh­ter Ka­t­rina’s big day.

The re­spected aca­demic had been di­ag­nosed with as­bestoslinked mesothe­lioma, a type of can­cer, just 10 months pre­vi­ously.

He was so ill that doc­tors had ex­pressed se­ri­ous con­cerns about al­low­ing him to leave hos­pi­tal for the wed­ding.

Richard’s wife An­gela said: “We were all try­ing so hard to make this the best day of Ka­t­rina’s life.

“But Richard was dy­ing from a can­cer peo­ple as­so­ciate with ship­yard work­ers, builders and others who worked with as­bestos.

“We had to make the best of what we had left and Richard was des­per­ate to ful­fil his du­ties as fa­ther of the bride. Car­ry­ing a Do Not Re­sus­ci­tate note in my hand­bag was the only way his doc­tors let him out of hos­pi­tal.”

Just four days later he passed away from a dis­ease that cam­paign­ers brand an in­dus­trial dis­as­ter.

Mesothe­lioma, com­monly linked to heavy in­dus­tries such as ship­build­ing, has none­the­less claimed many white- col­lar vic­tims in­clud­ing aca­demics, doc­tors, teach­ers, of­fice work­ers and hun­dreds of others whose work­ing lives never seemed to ex­pose them to as­bestos.

Speak­ing out to raise aware­ness of the ill­ness, An­gela said she had mar­ried Richard, 61, just six months be­fore his death.

Af­ter the cer­e­mony at Glas­gow’ s City Cham­bers, Richard, in an im­promptu ges­ture, guided her to a Christ­mas fun­fair in nearby Ge­orge Square where they rode on the carousel.

It was a rare mo­ment of un­think­ing hap­pi­ness as Richard’s ill­ness wors­ened.

An­gela said: “Richard was di­ag­nosed in Oc­to­ber 2014 and died the fol­low­ing June.

“It is one of the most hor­rific dis­eases we know of.

“There is no time to get your head around the di­ag­no­sis be­fore it pro­gresses.

“The first sign was a cough which Richard couldn’t shake off. Un­til then he had been a keen hill walker and very fit.”

A course of an­tibi­otics failed to shift the cough and he was re­ferred to a chest con­sul­tant.

“An X- ray prompted a lung biopsy and the re­sults re­vealed mesothe­lioma,” said An­gela. “Richard had be­gun to sus­pect it ear­lier when his doc­tors asked if he had ever worked with as­bestos.

“How­ever, his im­me­di­ate con­cerns were how to tell me and his two daugh­ters, Ka­t­rina and Emma.”

The cou­ple had met while work­ing to­gether at the MRCUniver­sity of Glas­gow Cen­tre for Virus Re­search, where Richard was Pro­fes­sor.

Richard had been wid­owed some years ear­lier and brought up his daugh­ters, bal­anc­ing an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer with be­ing a sin­gle dad.

An­gela had taken up the post of tech­ni­cal co-or­di­na­tor, en­sur­ing the safety of sci­en­tists work­ing with viruses.

She said his con­cern for others never wa­vered.

“Even when he was des­per­ately ill in bed he would sit with his lap­top work­ing, men­tor­ing stu­dents,” she said.

“Three mem­bers of his lab and others from within the cen­tre were sent to Sierra Leone to run lab­o­ra­to­ries di­ag­nos­ing Ebola cases.

“They be­came part of the team which stemmed the spread of the deadly virus and stopped a pan­demic.”

Richard died more than 90

years af­ter the ear­li­est warn­ings were is­sued about the links be­tween as­bestos and can­cer.

An­gela said: “I feel we were robbed of a won­der­ful life to­gether.

“It was short but won­der­ful and packed with mem­o­ries.

“Ka­t­rina and Emma lost a dad who adored them and mes­sages of con­do­lence flooded in from all over the world.”

So re­spected was Richard that the uni­ver­sity has named its bio-safety labs af­ter him.

Two years on from his death, An­gela is cam­paign­ing to re­duce the death toll from as­bestos, which claims the lives of 500 Scots per year.

She is des­per­ate to save a new gen­er­a­tion of po­ten­tial vic­tims.

Breath­ing in the deadly mi­cro­scopic fi­bres can set in mo­tion a can­cer which can take 20 to 50 years to de­velop. And the true num­ber of deaths is higher than of­fi­cial fig­ures, say doc­tors, as some pa­tients are too ill to un­dergo biop­sies to con­firm it.

In­stead they are la­belled with lung can­cer.

An­gela is at a loss to pin­point where Richard was ex­posed to as­bestos.

“I do not know where he came into con­tact with it,” she said.

“But I know that as­bestos has been wo­ven into the fab­ric of count­less pub­lic build­ings and homes.

“The fi­bres are so small they are barely de­tectable and eas­ily breathed in when dis­turbed.

“We have to pro­tect to­mor­row’s vic­tims by warn­ing them.

“I am one of many women who have lost their hus­bands and this ter­ri­ble tragedy needs to stop.

Hope for vic­tims lies in a flour­ish­ing net­work of re­search and drug tri­als. Chest con­sul­tant, Dr Kevin Blyth, of Glas­gow’s Queen Elizabeth Uni­ver­sity Hos­pi­tal, said: “The in­ci­dence of mesothe­lioma is higher in the West of Scot­land than in al­most any other part of the world.

“That is mainly be­cause of its legacy of our ship­build­ing and heavy in­dus­tries that used as­bestos. How­ever, we are see­ing more pa­tients whose jobs have not been tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated to as­bestos.”

Cam­paigner and sur­vivor, Mavis Nye, added: “Mesothe­lioma is the big­gest in­dus­trial dis­as­ter of re­cent times and the fig­ures are ris­ing.

“So many of our work­places and homes have been built us­ing as­bestos.”

An­gela is in­volved in a mesothe­lioma fo­cus group pro­ject to help im­prove ear­lier di­ag­no­sis for pa­tients suf­fer­ing from breath­less­ness and pains. As­bestos can be found in homes built or re­fur­bished be­fore 2000 and could be lurk­ing in, for ex­am­ple, tex­tured ceil­ings and garage roof tiles, pipe lag­ging and win­dow frames.

A Sc o t t i s h G ov er n m e n t spokes­woman said: “The Health and Safety Ex­ec­u­tive pro­vides guid­ance to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and health boards on the man­age­ment of as­bestos. The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment wel­comes and sup­ports HSE ef­forts to raise aware­ness of the dan­gers.

“Our ap­proach to mesothe­lioma is in­te­grated within our can­cer strat­egy.

“Ou r Scot­tish Re­fer­ral Gu id e l i n e s for Su sp e c t e d Can­cer in­clude a spe­cific sec­tion on mesothe­lioma.

“This should aid the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of those pa­tients who are most likely to have can­cer and re qu i re ur­gent spe­cial­ist as­sess­ment.”

Uni labs were re­named in trib­ute to Richard

Main, as­bestos cam­paigner An­gela El­liott; above, Richard with daugh­ter Ka­t­rina on her big day, still wear­ing his hos­pi­tal bracelet; right, a spe­cial mo­ment on the carousel with An­gela af­ter their wed­ding

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