Roger Thornton

Leicestershire couple Lynda and Roger Thornton couldn't wait for retirement. It would mean enjoying even more time in their favourite winter sun destination Tenerife, more walks with their beloved dogs Rocky and Kimberley and a chance for Roger to display his much-prized classic cars at shows.

Sadly, this dream was shattered when Lynda lost her husband, who she describes as her "soul mate" when he died of the asbestos related disease Mesothelioma four years ago.

Lynda, who works tirelessly to help raise awareness of the disease, wants her husband's death to act a warning to other young tradesmen - plumbers, electricians and joiners - to help them avoid the dangers of asbestos.

The warning is part of the Health and Safety Executive's campaign 'Asbestos - the hidden killer', aimed at young tradesmen, who know that asbestos is dangerous, but don't believe they are at risk.

Lynda, who had been married to Roger for 38 years, said:

"Roger was without doubt exposed to asbestos early on in his plumbing career as it was everywhere - but no one was aware of the dangers then - all he would ever use was a handkerchief to cover his face from the dust. No one had heard of asbestos, so getting training or protective clothing was never in the equation."

"All he did was work hard to earn a living for his family - but its cost him his life. He's been robbed of his retirement years and I've lost my best friend. I feel like my life's been put on hold."

"I don't want people to forget Roger and why he died, which is why I'm wholeheartedly supporting this HSE campaign. Young workmen need to take it seriously as it is a real danger to them. Because the effects aren't instant and no pain is felt immediately it is easy to think that it's not damaging to your health. However, its years down the line when it hits you, like it did my Roger. He went from being a strong, fit man who used to love cycling and enjoyed a big, cooked breakfast, to one who lost so much weight and could barely eat. I literally watched him dying before my eyes."

Roger, then self-employed, first felt the effects of his illness when he started feeling breathless while holidaying with his wife in Tenerife to soak up some winter sun, in December 2003.

"He put in down to being out of shape as he hadn't been cycling regularly," Lynda recalls. "Never in a million years did either of us think he was ill."

On returning home, this breathlessness continued; it was taking him twice as long to load his truck, so finally he decided he needed to go to the doctors, which was unusual for Roger. He hadn't needed to see a GP since they had moved to their house in Countesthorpe in 2001, so had to register for one.

Lynda and her husband were both dumbstruck when Roger was later diagnosed with Mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the chest or lungs) in January 2004 and he died just six months later. He underwent an unsuccessful operation to prolong his life. When he came out of surgery, a friend had said to him "It looks like you've been eaten by jaws".

Lynda added "It's only fairly recently that people are realising that workmen from Roger's generation are dying from being exposed to asbestos. We have a friend who was diagnosed around the same time and passed away a few months before Roger."

"I'm angry that nothing was done about it at the time and wish I could turn back the clock so employers provided their workers with protective clothing and masks - or even better get the experts in and let them deal with it."

"My aim now is to make people aware of this disease and what causes it. Every year on Mesothelioma Day - 27 February - I organise a publicity event involving the Lord Major of Leicester, so even if one person goes away learning about asbestos and the devastating effects it can have, then its been worthwhile."

"The support I got from family and friends, and my local GP and nurses, helped me get through this. I know that Roger couldn't have been better looked after during his time in hospital. And the local asbestos support team in Derbyshire have been a great support to me."

Currently three plumbers die every week as a consequence of exposure to asbestos dust while at work. Asbestos is a real and relevant risk to today's tradesmen, any building built or refurbished before the year 2000 could contain the deadly substance.

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Updated 2023-05-16