Ted Lawrence

When Ted Lawrence was a strapping young bloke of just 18 years working as a lagger on the Australian navy ships, he spent his days working with asbestos sheets. He thought he was the luckiest of his ship mates because his job gave him the chance to sit on the decks in the sun and cut up asbestos into the sizes needed to cover steam room appliances while his colleagues were stuck in the stream room down below.

He now knows that the “rain” of asbestos fibre that used to cover him and his mates is the cause of deadly diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. But true to his nature, Mr Lawrence isn’t complaining about that too much either.
“I feel quite blessed to be living here in the West and able to take part in the program because otherwise I reckon I would be dead like a lot of my ship mates,” Mr Lawrence said.He is referring to the Asbestos Review Program which is headed by Dr Bill Musk of the University of Western Australia. Mr Lawrence is one of 1400 participants who attend the Perth Chest Clinic on an annual basis and receive expert treatment and advice from specialists such as Professor Musk.

The research program, which has had various names over the years but was commonly known as the Vitamin A program, was a research project that began in the 1990s – just a decade after Mr Lawrence became aware that the stuff he had worked with as a young bloke was potentially deadly.

Mr Lawrence has been diagnosed with pleural plaques which are areas of raised fibrous collagen tissue that develop on the pleura, the lining outside the lung. They are associated with asbestos exposure and like other asbestos-related conditions; pleural plaques develop many years after exposure.

More recently, Mr Lawrence has developed asbestosis which is a lung disease characterised by the replacement of the normal lung tissue with fibrous tissue. It results from exposure to asbestos and causes a destruction of the structures in the lung that allow the exchange of gases, including oxygen.

“The progress of the asbestosis is slow. This year the readings I got from the chest clinic showed a slight improvement in the transfers of oxygen,” he said.

“I really appreciate the program because I think it gives you some peace of mind. When you have a thing like this, morbidity is strong in your mind.“We all know we are going to die but with asbestos you think you are going to die earlier,” he said.

“Having the annual chest x-rays, blood tests and fitness tests, it is all very thorough and shows us that the disease has not progressed that much and that we are physically capable and able to do lots of things,” Mr Lawrence said.“I hope people around the world notice that the people involved in this program are healthier and developing less cancers than other people my age in the general population.

“Even though they don’t have all of the clinical evidence, there is something really, really good about it that is working and it’s worth a try (being involved),” he said.