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A Fighting Chance Against Mesothelioma

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Felix Tarantino is a 56 year old former boilermaker with four years of service in the U.S. Navy. He was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma on March 26, 2001. He and his wife reside in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Felix had been working in a steel fabricating shop for three and one-half years before he first noticed fatigue and shortness of breath in January, 2000. Normally, he could manhandle 1600 pound slabs of steel. As you can see, his physique was chiseled from years of hard work.

As winter turned into spring, Felix noticed that he was sleeping longer and longer hours. He would come home from work exhausted, go straight to bed, sleep for fourteen hours, then wake up and start all over again. By June, he finally realized that he could not handle the steel the way he used to, and that his weakness at work could be dangerous to himself, or to others. Felix was forced to quit, and went to plumbing work, which was less strenuous. He had to quit this work as well in November, 2000, when his condition spiraled downward.

That month, Felix came down with a terrible cold. He went to see Dr. Irina Vilenskaya, his primary care physician who had a chest film taken. This film did not reveal bronchitis as his doctor had previously thought, but rather cells that looked abnormal with asbestos exposure. Dr. Vilenskaya then sent Felix to Dr. Robert Kosinski, who drained fluid from the right side and ordered a CT scan. Dr. Kosinski told him that chest films taken in November, 2000 showed he had asbestosis in 90 percent of his right lung.

Felix saw Dr. Kosinski three times from December until he had fluid drained on February 8, 2001. Felix had a bronchoscopy and a biopsy performed on February 19, 2001, which yielded an inconclusive result.

Felix was referred to Dr. Robert Caccavale of the Thoracic Group in Somerset, New Jersey who performed a video-assisted thoracoscopy with partial pleurectomy. The scars in the photograph represent the corner incisions made to remove a massive sheet of tumor from the rib cage. Shortly thereafter, on March 26, Felix received a telephone call from his doctor's office notifying him that he had been diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, biphasic type.

Surgical Scars

Surgical Scars

Given his rapidly deteriorating condition, Felix turned his attention away from the exploration of treatment options, and testified in New York City while on oxygen over the course of the first three days of May. He actually delayed the start of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to testify. After taking a two-hour train ride from New Jersey into the City, he was only able to testify for about three hours the first day, and four the next, due to lack of stamina and constant pain. One of his chief concerns during the first day of testimony was that he was running out of oxygen, and arrangements had to be frantically made to locate another canister.

Three days of testimony left Felix looking much older, with a gray pallor to his skin. On May 4, one of his treating physicians, Dr. Gollamudi, recommended that Felix undergo an extra-pleural pneumonectomy after undergoing therapeutic chemotherapy. Felix was terrified at the prospect of being surgically filleted, and then bombarded with radiation and chemotherapy.

He scheduled appointments with oncologists in New Jersey and at the University of Pennsylvania. He was not comfortable with any of the treatment options with which he had been presented. He found the ALIMTA(R) (pemetrexed disodium), trial at the San Antonio Cancer Therapy and Research Center more promising. However, while Felix remains very interested in future treatment with Alimta, the ordeal and expense of traveling to San Antonio persuaded him to first try conventional chemotherapy at a local hospital. Moreover, there was no guarantee that he would be eligible to participate in the Alimta trial.

In mid-June, Felix became so anemic from the chemotherapy that he had to be hospitalized for several days. He had two pints of blood transfused. He is on Megace, and has actually gained a few pounds. But he senses that the tumor is growing. He can feel it in his back more; he can feel it on his side, all of these little bumps. And he can feel the tumor restrict his lung expansion. His doctors are going to have him take an M.R.I. after his next round of chemotherapy.

Felix Tarantino

Felix Tarantino, April 30, 2001

Currently, he suffers from constant pain, frequent fever and night sweats, shortness of breath, and occasional episodes where he feels he is suffocating. Felix is 56 years old. He has always taken pride in his health and appearance.

Felix and Deborah Tarantino were married on August 10, 1983. Debbie works as a dental technician. Before Felix fell ill, they enjoyed taking long rides in rural Pennsylvania, to get away from all the congestion in New Jersey. They felt free, liberated, while they rambled along, stopping at antique stores to shop. They were just starting to get ahead. Just before they pushed the boulder to the top of the mountain, the boulder turned on them. They feel like they are being pushed inexorably down, despite straining with every sinew not to give an inch. Felix says there's always hope, as long as he can pray.

Our prayers are with the Tarantinos as they struggle to hold their ground while the tumor bears down. As I write this, I am thinking of all the Felix Tarantinos in the world who have been forced into this unwinnable showdown with mesothelioma. There are thousands of good, strong, healthy people out there who have the right stuff to win just about anything they do.

But mesothelioma does not respect might, or discipline, or conviction. The tumor has no compassion. You can't reason with it. It must be eradicated. Don't just read this and feel sorry for Felix Tarantino. Do something. Help the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation give patients like Felix a chance to win. Help cure mesothelioma. See www.marf.org.

*** POSTED JUNE 25, 2001 ***

Mr. Tarantino passed away on December 2, 2001