Alan Cooke

Alan Cooke from Pontypridd was known amongst his colleagues from his strength as a shuttering carpenter. But previous exposure to asbestos cut his career and his life short, and he died from mesothelioma at the age of 52.

Now his widow Carolyn wants tradespeople and employers to learn from her family's experience and wise up to the danger of asbestos.

After starting work in the Coedely pit, Alan became an apprentice carpenter and eventually worked for a subcontractor at a number of locations. He didn't regularly come into contact with asbestos, except for one job in the summer of 1976 at a factory in Cardiff, where he was asked to work with asbestolux board.

"He knew the dangers of asbestos and refused to work with it at first," said Carolyn, "but he was assured that it wasn't asbestos and so carried on. He only worked with it for a six-week period though and this was the only time he had ever worked with asbestos."

"There was no special protective clothing provided for Alan, just a rubber mask," said Carolyn, "There weren't even washing facilities on sites in those days either."

Today's joiners are still at risk. Even though asbestos has been banned it is present in over 500,000 buildings in the UK. Tradesmen who are carrying out maintenance or refurbishment could damage it and create the deadly asbestos dust which when inhaled can prove fatal.

Alan's health began to deteriorate in the autumn of 1999, when he went to his doctor with a pain in his right side, believing it to be the result of a trip at work. But in the months that followed, the pain got worse, and after several visits to the hospital, a biopsy revealed the presence of a tumour which doctors later confirmed was mesothelioma.

"Alan even went in for an operation to try to remove the tumour, but after the operation the surgeon said that he was unable to penetrate it," said Carolyn, "We had to admit there was nothing that could be done."

Alan's deterioration continued throughout the year 2000, including lengthy bouts of excruciating pain, significant weight loss, and severe difficulty in moving about the house.

"Seeing your loved one like that is horrendous," said Carolyn, "He was always so strong but towards the end he looked like he'd been in a wartime concentration camp."

Alan died in 2001, the youngest of his eight siblings. The effect on his family has been huge, particularly for the couple's daughter, Sarah, who works as a district nurse.

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Updated 2023-05-16