Christine Musser and Vernon Braaten
Vernon "Vern" Braaten grew up on a farm in North Dakota. He and
each of his brothers and sisters worked and contributed from an early
age. They ate the vegetables they grew, and sometimes the meat from animals
raised on the farm. Sometimes whether or not there was meat on the dinner
table depended on the success of a hunt.
A necessity turned into a life-long passion for the beauties of hunting
and fishing: the fog of his breath billowing in front of him as he stalked
a deer in stinging cold; the big, cloudless blue Dakota sky reflected
in a still fishing pond; the hush of solitude, space from the crowd of
his brothers and sisters; bringing home the kill, providing for his family,
a trait which stuck.
Hunger and trying to avoid it was just a day-to-day reality. So was risk,
and death. Several of Vern's brothers died in farm accidents.
When a piece of farm equipment or a car broke down, when a building needed
to be built or repaired, there was no money to hire someone else to do
the job. Vern learned to figure things out for himself. In time he became
his own mechanic, lumberjack, miller, carpenter, roofer, and drywaller.
Vern left the long, harsh Dakota winters behind at the age of 17. Then
his uncle told him of opportunity for good-paying work as a pipefitter
at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) in Bremerton, Washington. Vern began
working at PSNS in 1967. He kept working there until his retirement 35
years later, in June, 2002. Over the years he suffered massive exposures
Vern's life was full in retirement. Vern has two daughters, Tina and
Teresa, and four grandchildren. He lives with his companion Christine
"Chris" Musser and his 13 year-old granddaughter Katrina in
a townhome owned by Chris. He has helped care for his granddaughter Katrina
since her birth, more a father to her, but still with a grandfather's
Vernon and his trophy elk
Vern was building a 7,000 square-foot shop with an apartment in Seabeck.
His property is on the side of a hill with a view of the mountains rising
to the sky in the west. (He explains the Pacific is on the other side,
but "you can't get there from here.") He cut huge cedar
trees off his property, planed the lumber, and made the cedar siding for
the house. The woodshop occupies half of the second level. A friend named
Mike keeps some of his own tools in the shop and comes by to work and
hang out with Vern. On the walls in the already finished living room are
a black bearskin and one of the biggest elk heads I have ever seen. (He
turned down a $5,000 offer for the head from a Fish and Game warden).
The garage and auto shop occupying the entire first level of the house
have more than adequate height to accommodate a long motor boat "dry-docked"
for cleaning. In another part of the garage there's an old El Camino
to be refurbished, and a Harley which only needs the tarp pulled off for riding.
Outside, Vern keeps a gentle horse named Rainier, who has his own barn.
Next to the barn is the mill Vern made for sawing and planing his lumber.
There's a smoke shack for curing meat and fish. He shows me a salt
water inlet where he likes to fish and crab.
Vern had come a long way from his impoverished beginnings in North Dakota.
His talents and skills enabled him to attain more on a pipefitter's
salary than a lot of college-educated men. And Vern was in excellent health.
He had never smoked tobacco in his life; in fact, he abhors tobacco smoke.
The line of his life was shooting straight up, seemingly forever, until
the legacy of the work from which he had retired brought everything to
a shocking halt.
In early June, 2003, only a year after he retired from PSNS, Vern began
experiencing left-sided pain and shortness of breath. He did not suspect
any connection between his shipyard employment and these symptoms. On
July 1, 2003, he underwent a left thoracentesis with pleural biopsy at
Harrison Memorial Hospital in Bremerton, Washington.
Vern's crab haul
The tissue specimens were examined by the renowned pathologist Dr. Sam
Hammar, of Diagnostic Specialties Laboratories in Bremerton, Washington.
A member of the U.S.-Canadian Mesothelioma Board, Dr. Hammar is widely
recognized as one of the best in the world at diagnosing mesothelioma
and otherwise confirming physical evidence of asbestos exposure. (It is
more than coincidence that Dr. Hammar offices in Bremerton; because of
Washington's numerous shipyards, that state has the highest per capita
rate of mesothelioma in the country).
Using immunohistochemical staining, Dr. Hammar diagnosed Vern with epithelial
mesothelioma. In a pathology report dated July 7, Dr. Hammar noted grade
1 asbestosis in pieces of the lung tissue with focal involvement of the
visceral pleura. These findings corroborate Vern's heavy exposure
to asbestos. Dr. Hammar also found extensive fibrosis and chronic inflammation
associated with the tumor.
Vern consulted with Dr. Eric Vallieres of the University of Washington
in Seattle. Dr. Vallieres is one of the foremost surgeons in the world
treating mesothelioma and a member of the Science Advisory Board of the
Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF ), a not-for-profit corporation whose mission is the eradication of mesothelioma
as a life-ending disease.
After reviewing Vern's medical records, Dr. Vallieres felt that he
was a qualified candidate for induction chemotherapy followed by an extrapleural
pneumonectomy (EPP) and adjuvant fast neutron radiation therapy. Before
undergoing the EPP, he would first complete three months of chemotherapy
with Alimta, the current chemotherapy "gold standard" for mesothelioma.
After the surgery, he would undergo radiation therapy.
Vernon, Katrina and Chris. September 4, 2003
Vern's preparation for chemotherapy began on July 21with B12 and folic
acid shots. His oncologist in Bremerton is Dr. Dennis Williford of Bremerton,
who oversees the administration of Vern's chemotherapy and works directly
with Dr. Vallieres. The chemo, administered once every three weeks, leaves
Vern extremely weak and nauseous for days.
Currently, Vern apprehends the pain associated with the EPP to come. In
fact, he harbors some uncertainty as to whether he will undergo the EPP;
he has still not recovered from the pain of the biopsy procedure, and
the pain associated with EPP is almost always much worse. He fears the
possibility of relentless pain in the future. Three times he flew halfway
across the country to be with his father, a farmer, as his father lay
dying of stomach cancer, so he has an idea of what may come.
Vern tries not to show these things to Katrina or Chris. He still is a
hunter, and a provider -- not a victim. Although family and friends can
tell that mesothelioma has aged him, an unknowing outsider would not guess
he has cancer, only that he moves slowly, deliberately. Vern has a large
circle of friends, and one of the things that has bothered him the most
about his disease is that some of his friends have stopped calling or
coming by, simply because they do not know what to say to him, or what
to expect when they see him. To these people I say, call and come see
your old friend; with Dr. Vallieres and a little help from the rest of
his friends, he has a chance to be with us a lot longer than the cold
*** POSTED SEPTEMBER 26, 2003 ***
Mr. Vern Braaten passed away on 23,2007
The following is the obituary for Vern Braaten:
Vernon Allen Braaten of Seabeck died at home on Oct. 23, 2007 after a courageous
4 year battle with Mesothelioma (asbestos cancer) at the age of 60. He
was born May 18, 1947 in Upham, ND to Ann (Rice) and Calmer Braaten, the
second youngest of 12 children.
Vern worked at PSNS for 35 years, retiring in 2002 after working as a pipe
fitter in shop 56NT . Vern owned his own company Braaten's Bulldozing
company for many years. He believed in hard work, and was an inspiration
and teacher to many.
He had a great love and respect of the great outdoors. Hunting, fishing,
crabbing, shrimping and being out in Mother Nature was his greatest love.
He owned his own sawmill, and processed his own lumber for the building
of his "shop." He loved to build and built several houses with
expertise. He was a jack of all trades, and a master of all with no doubt.
He was a lifetime member of the NRA. Vern was proud to be an American
and believed in the Republican Party. Vern was a humanitarian, and a friend
to all, and was known for his kind and generous heart and soul. He is
going to be deeply missed by many friends and family.
He is survived by his loving life partner (and caregiver) Christine Musser,
daughters Tina (Gary) Haymaker and Teresa (Stacy) Dick. Grandchildren
Keil Dick, Cassondra Dick, Katrina Haymaker and Robert Haymaker. His sisters
Viola Latendresse of Upham ND, Mary of Minot ND, Ruth Latendresse of Minot,
ND, and sister Ella of Kelso WA. Brothers Leo Braaten of Great Falls,
MT, Floyd Braaten of Minot ND, nephew Allen Brandt of Great Falls MT.
and many nieces and nephews. He is also survived by Chris's sons Timothy
(Jennifer Shaw) and Anthony (Sandra) Lang, and their children Ariel, Hunter
and Talen Lang. He was preceded in death by his parents, and brothers
Melvin, Eugene, Robert, Donald, and sister Lola Brandt.
Special thanks go to Nurse Katrina from Hospice of Kitsap County and Dr.
Willerford and staff for their loving care and support during his battle
with his disease. Also thanks to Mike Manavie for his loving care and
help during the long waiting days at the end of Vern's fight.
Vern was of Lutheran faith. At his request there will be no funeral services,
but a Celebration of Life will be announced at a later date. In lieu of
flowers, a remembrance may be made to the Mesothelioma Applied Research
Foundation (M.A.R.F.) at P.O. Box 91840, Santa Barbara, California 93190-1840 in Vern's
name. Rest in peace Vern, you were and always will be loved.