My father Percy, died of asbestosis three years ago yesterday. Donations made at the time of his funeral were used to set up a 'Breath of Life' fund by the British Lung Foundation. I have supplemented this over the last two years with proceeds from my recital in October 2005 and sales of my CDs to friends in 2006. If you visit that page, you will see a photo of Percy giving the thumbs up, just 36 hours before he died in his sleep.
Speaking to a representative at the British Lung Foundation, I decided that the money collected in Percy's name should go to asthma research.
Asbestosis is a terrible disease. It crucifies the lungs, making them stiff and rigid so that they can't move to breathe air in and out. Some days when I visited Percy in hospital during his final weeks, he would say that he'd had terrible mornings, but would never explain why. I think his lungs must have just stopped. Even the constant oxygen supply wasn't enough to get the muscles working. It was almost as if he had to be primed like a pump.
Why did Percy get asbestosis? He worked for firms in the 1950s and 1960s which used asbestos as fire-proofing materials in partitions. The workers were told to use masks, but probably didn't because it was held to be namby-pamby. We think that one of Dad's favourite friends, Len Watkins, also died the same way.
But I hope that asbestosis will be a disease on the wane, now that society is aware of the dangers.
Therefore I agreed that the funds collected for Percy should go to asthma research, since the incidence of asthma is actually increasing. My daughter Rosie has asthma. Asbestosis is a disease of the past, I hope. Asthma is a disease now. I think that Percy would have wanted it that way. He was always looking forward, while remembering the past.
It's awful to know that he was told in 1979 that he had pleural plaques on his lungs which would probably lead to asbestosis and his death. But he never told us, and he never let it get in the way of enjoying his life.
Here are some words from the British Lung Foundation about their work.
"The British Lung Foundation is the only UK charity working for everyone affected by lung disease. The charity focuses its resources on providing support for people affected by lung disease today; and works in a variety of ways (including funding world-class research) to bring about positive change, to improve treatment, care and support for people affected by lung disease in the future.
Asthma is probably the UK's most common lung condition, affecting about five million people in the UK. Although the causes of asthma are unknown at present, we do know that various factors contribute. The airways of someone with asthma are inflamed, which makes them more likely to become narrow and so making it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs. The symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, wheezing and a tight feeling in the chest.
Certain factors – known as "triggers" – are known to make asthma worse. When asthma gets worse for no apparent reason, this is known as an asthma attack. Some of the triggers include the common cold, allergies such as grass pollen, house dust and animal fur, irritants like tobacco smoke or a dusty atmosphere, strong emotion and pollution.
There is no cure for asthma, but with treatment, most people can lead normal lives. Many treatments are available, given either as an inhaler or in tablet form. The British Lung Foundation is currently funding a number of research projects into asthma. Dr Graham Roberts at the University of Southampton is investigating whether pregnant women's diets affect their babies' chances of developing asthma and other chest problems.
Dr Andrea Venn at the University of Nottingham is conducting research into whether living close to a main road increases the risk of developing asthma, allergies or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. lthough there is already evidence that pollution can worsen the symptoms of people living with lung diseases, it is not known whether traffic pollution can cause these conditions or cause a longer term decrease in lung function."
If you have been moved by Percy's plight and his bravery, please consider making a donation to the British Lung Foundation.
First published 20th March 2007.