Cutting-edge op gave me extra time with my Vic
RADICAL surgery which helped give an asbestos cancer sufferer precious extra years with his wife and family is being studied to see if it can help cut the UK toll of the deadly dust.
Power station worker Vic Andrzejewski, from Brassington, near Wirksworth, contracted the gruelling condition mesothelioma, which has no cure, when he was 58.
More than 2,000 people a year die from the cancer, which can take up to 50 years to develop following exposure to asbestos, now banned in industry.
About 50 of these deaths occur in Derbyshire, attributed to its history of heavy engineering, and the toll is expected to continue increasing until 2020.
Mesothelioma usually kills within 12 months but Mr Andrzejewski was chosen to undergo a pioneering surgical procedure at Nottingham City Hospital.
In a five-hour operation, surgeon Antonio Martin-Ucar removed the lining surrounding the lungs, heart and diaphragm, along with as much of the cancer as possible.
After the operation, Mrs Andrzejewski survived for three years and was able to spend time with Heather enjoying travelling.
Mrs Andrzejewski said her husband, who worked at power stations across the country, had been convinced he would develop an asbestos-related disease but she hoped he was being pessimistic.
Mr Andrzejewski was diagnosed in January 2010 after he had been feeling unwell for five months.
His wife said he would return from work as a self-employed plumber feeling "absolutely shattered".
He received surgery shortly after his diagnosis. Mrs Andrzejewski said: "Vic lived much longer than he would otherwise have done. Normally it's nine to 12 months.
"There aren't many surgeons skilled at doing it. It's the only thing that gives people a fighting chance for a long period of time.
"For the first 18 months, he was really well. He did lots of travelling, we went to the Caribbean together and could walk a good distance.
"He even did a bit of travelling on his own.
"It was Easter last year he started to suffer more pain and he could tell that things were advancing."
Mr Andrzejewski came into contact with asbestos while working as a pipe welder at plants including Willington in the 1970s.
Mrs Andrzejewski, a specialist dyslexia tutor at Derby College, said she was grateful his life was extended and his quality of life improved after the radical operation, known as a pleurectomy.
The procedure he had, which is not currently offered in Derby hospitals, is about to undergo trials to put its effectiveness to the test.
Liz Darlison, consultant Macmillan nurse with Mesothelioma UK, said the procedure Mr Andrzejewski underwent is believed by many to have life-extending potential.
She said: "This procedure hasn't been through a randomised trial, which is why it's available in some parts of the country but not others.
"It isn't suitable for everyone. It's a big operation and it depends on type and stage of mesothelioma as well as a patients's fitness before the procedure.
"With regard to survival benefits, opinion is divided. The proposed trial should address this."
'SO MUCH ASBESTOS IT WAS LIKE A DEATH SENTENCE'
HEATHER Andrzejewski said conditions at the power stations where her husband worked had been dreadful.
"People would go into rooms that were full of asbestos without any protection on," she remarked. "There was so much asbestos, it was like a death sentence."
Mr Andrzejewski's condition began to deteriorate last Easter. His wife said they savoured every moment they had left together.
She said: "We went out for lots of meals and spent as much time doing quality things as possible.
"We focused on the here and now and learned to appreciate the small things. It's definitely a life lesson that will stay with me.
"People say it's a tragedy but he was 61 and it wasn't like it was sudden. He died at home, where he wanted to be. It was peaceful, as good as it could have been."
Mr Andrzejewski died on January 22 and more than 180 people attended his funeral. His widow said: "He always lived for the day, even before his diagnosis. He was very calm, had a brilliant sense of humour and was very, very generous."
She added that their sons, Gabriel, 15, and Izaak, 18, had been "amazing" since their father's death.
The mesothelioma helpline is 0800 169 2409.