A retired West Midlands school teacher, who has been diagnosed with the deadly asbestos-related cancer, Mesothelioma, has welcomed Government plans to make lump sum payouts within six weeks, to ensure that people diagnosed with the disease do not suffer financial hardship.
69-year-old Margaret Worthington, from Darlaston in the Black Country, received the devastating news in December 2006, that she has incurable Mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the chest (mesothelium). It is believed that Margaret, who worked for many years as a primary school teacher, may have contracted the disease after pinning and stapling her pupils work to pinboards on the classroom walls, which could have released asbestos fibres into the air.
Mrs Worthington said: "I try to stay positive and live each day to the full. I feel fortunate because I have a loving husband and family who are very supportive and Ive been able to afford the adaptations I will need around the house to make life more comfortable, such as a downstairs toilet. However, many mesothelioma victims are not as fortunate - they are not only fighting a terrible disease but are also battling financial hardship - the last thing they need is to fight for their compensation entitlements too."
Mrs Worthington spoke out following an announcement from John Hutton, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, which will soon mean that, for the first time, Government compensation will be made to victims who lived near sites where asbestos was produced. Currently only people who contract the disease from exposure to asbestos at work are eligible to claim a lump sum from the Government.
The proposals will provide up-front financial support to people who were previously not eligible, including those who were exposed to asbestos from a relative, such as when washing dust ridden overalls, as well as people who lived near factories using asbestos.
Industrial diseases legal expert, Alida Coates, from the Birmingham office of national law firm Irwin Mitchell, is currently investigating Mrs Worthington's case. She said: "We welcome the Secretary of States proposals as a very positive step forward for Mesothelioma sufferers.
"Unfortunately at the moment sufferers can die before they ever get the compensation they deserve, or they could find they aren't eligible because they contracted the disease from living near a factory or being exposed to a relative who worked there where asbestos was used, rather than working at the factory themselves, which is an awful injustice.
"Compensation does not redress the wrong that has been done, and will not give sufferers their full health back. The reality is it is an incurable disease but compensation will help improve the quality of life for those who suffer from the disease.
"Margaret Worthington is one of a growing number of people diagnosed with Mesothelioma not usually associated with heavy exposure to asbestos including teachers, hospital staff and family members exposed to asbestos dust on their loved ones work clothes."
During her teaching career, from 1958 to 2001, Mrs Worthington worked at numerous schools within the Wolverhampton and Walsall area. From 1975 to 1994 she worked at Kings Hill Primary School in Darlaston.
During her time at the old Victorian-built school, which has since been demolished, she taught junior, infant and nursery classes. As part of her job she regularly pinned children's work, posters and various thematic displays around the classroom onto pinboards and also outside the classroom down the corridor walls. These displays were changed every six weeks.
Alida Coates from Irwin Mitchell solicitors explained: "Whilst we are in the very early stages of investigating Mrs Worthington's claims, we do know there have been a number of recent cases involving school teachers from other parts of the UK, who contracted mesothelioma after breathing in asbestos fibres released as a result of sticking pupils work to classroom walls with drawing pins."
Mrs Worthington, who is married, with three grown up children and two grandchildren, explained: "My husband Tony and I were both so shocked when the doctor first diagnosed Mesothelioma. I have always led a healthy lifestyle and have never smoked. Teaching is not a profession you associate with asbestos exposure.
"I first noticed something was wrong at the beginning of last year. I started to get breathless and found I was walking a little slower than usual. I'm a member of a ramblers walking group and found that I wasn't able to keep up with the rest of the walkers as I usually did."
Tests for a chest infection and pneumonia proved negative and in June last year Margaret was diagnosed with lung cancer. Initially doctors were unsure what type of lung cancer it was and she was treated with chemotherapy, which is suitable for both mesothelioma and squamous small cell cancer. The tumour shrank to a degree where the surgeons felt they could operate to remove it and Margaret was admitted to Heartlands Hospital on 2 November 2006.
However, once in theatre they discovered that the tumour was too near her heart and was attached to the pericardium and vena cava, making it unsafe to remove the tumour. Further biopsy samples confirmed a diagnosis of Mesothelioma and doctors broke the news to Margaret and her husband Tony on December 4th 2006.
Margaret is currently undergoing further chemotherapy treatment and has also been prescribed the latest mesothelioma drug, Alimta. She said: "The staff at Manor Hospital have been absolutely brilliant and thankfully I've not felt sick or unwell during chemotherapy.
"I'm a firm believer in staying positive and looking forward to the future. Tony and I have booked a cruise onboard the QE2 for my 70th birthday in June and I'm also going to fulfil my ambition to fly in a helicopter.
However, Margaret is realistic about her long-term prognosis and she admits it's hardest for her family. She said: "I have two young grand-daughters aged five and two. I don't have the strength now to pick up the youngest. She's too young to understand why her Grandma can't lift her up and carry her around. It's little things like this that I used to take for granted that are tough to cope with."
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, our expert mesothelioma solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Asbestos-Related Disease Claims Guide for more information.