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Workers stories: Pat Goodacre - Textiles worker

Pat Goodacre, of Kippax, West Yorkshire, remembers when she was first told that she had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a type of lung disease. "Coming home from the hospital I can remember sitting in the car feeling absolutely gutted", explains Pat. "I was told that surgery was not appropriate for me, though it would have allowed me to carry on teaching exercise", she recalls. "I was also relieved, to be honest, to have a final diagnosis. At least then I could deal with it", she added. That was 14 years ago, in 1997.

Pat worked as a dress designer for 43 years, spending 10 of those years in the cutting room, which was always covered with nylon fibre dust. Pat recalls seeing it a good inch thick.

Like her colleagues at the time, Pat was unaware of the damage that breathing in these fibres could do to her health in later life. "In those days we didn't have masks. I think soon after I left in 1975 they started having masks for people", she recalls. "Nobody ever thought anything about it. Because nobody was aware of that sort of thing in those days, nobody thought that they were damaging their health."

Her message to employers is clear. She firmly believes where an industry creates hazardous dust or fibres, the employers must make sure that they look after the people that work for them, through education, training and the use of appropriate dust controls. "It's a slow process to change behaviour, but there's no excuse", she concludes.

Before she was diagnosed with COPD, Pat had led an extremely active life and was an exercise instructor in her spare time. The exercise classes she had enjoyed so much gradually became much more difficult for her and she couldn't keep up with the class.

She decided to go to the doctor, who initially diagnosed asthma, but Pat wasn't convinced. After a series of tests over two years, Pat was told she had COPD. Although Pat had smoked in the past, her consultant was confident that in her case, she had not smoked enough for this to be the sole cause of her illness.

Since her diagnosis, Pat has joined a local Breathe Easy group. Determined to continue doing what she loves, Pat teaches exercise classes to fellow COPD sufferers, although she finds it a challenge. Pat explains, "When you've got oxygen on and you're speaking and teaching and working it's quite hard!"

Things really hit home hard for Pat when one day she tried to pick her young grandson, and realised that she couldn't. "He was running towards the road and I just couldn't get to him", she explains. "He used to come running up to me with his arms open and I couldn't pick him up."

Pat's husband David has noticed the deterioration in her ability to do everyday tasks. Cleaning the windows and vacuuming are a real struggle. She explains, "Nowadays it's very difficult to bend down to put your socks on and it sounds pathetic but it really is true. Putting my tights on, because you're bending forward, it restricts your breathing."

Pat's ill health has affected her life in other ways; she and David can no longer go on long haul flights, unless she is prepared to pay for oxygen on board because her oxygen concentrator machine will only work for three hours. Even when going for a walk with a slight incline, she has to insert an oxygen cannula into her nose.
Remaining as active as possible has helped Pat to manage her COPD, but her exposure could have so easily been prevented.

Updated: 2013-10-23