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Fight With Prayer, Positive Thinking - And A Little Golf

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George Barg, a 70 year-old Asheville, North Carolina resident, diagnosed in September, 1996 with pleural mesothelioma, continues to amaze his doctors with his upbeat outlook, which includes nine holes of golf, three times a week. But George's friends and family know this is just par for the course.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1927, George grew up without his father, who left home when George was six. After graduating from high school, George was drafted into the Navy and endured six months of basic training at Sampson Naval Base in upstate New York. Typically, George laughs and says, "I'll never forget it. Six months of learning to be a seaman, marching, eating chow, having your teeth fixed. Riding these filthy New York Central Railroad trains whenever we wanted to come home."

After being honorably discharged from the Navy in August, 1946, George went to work for the electric company Consolidated Edison in New York City. George's uncle was foreman at Con Ed's Ainsley Street substation and recognized George's mechanical talent, so George applied for a job. George laughs again and says, "I thought I was getting a job as a mechanic, but something got fouled up and I wound up as a coal and ash handler in Hellgate."

Coal and ash handler, Hellgate Powerhouse, 1946. The birthplace of George's mesothelioma was as unpleasant as the words suggest.

Hellgate lives in George's memory as a huge, multi-story powerhouse. The interior was dominated by gigantic boilers and turbines, and floors and staircases made of iron gratings. Dust was everywhere, flying from floor to floor. George remembers workers spraying asbestos insulation on turbines, and "lighting off" the boilers.

George described the boiler as "a very long igloo", with a "porthole" at one end. George would climb in this porthole with a pole that had a wick on it, then light off a combustible product that lined both sides of the interior of the boiler, and then -- "get out fast." As he was walking through the boiler, he would brush against the bricks, and dust from the mortar would flake off -- dust which no doubt contained asbestos.

Pulverized coal came down escalators and then dropped through chutes to feed the boilers. Sometimes the coal was wet, and would clog the chutes. George's main job at Hellgate? Hammering clogged chutes with a sledgehammer to keep "the slag" from getting into the boiler.

George persevered through six months of Hellgate, then got a job as a mechanic out of Ainslee Street substation. George enjoyed his 20 years of work as a Con Ed mechanic. He helped keep the City going by servicing its powerhouses and substations. Unfortunately, his work also exposed George to a variety of asbestos-containing products. Like others of his time, George did not realize how dangerous his work really was.

In 1953, George married a beautiful young lady, Rosemary, whom he'd met and fallen for in a bowling alley. They're still married and in love today, and blessed with three children and three grandchildren.

In 1968, Con Ed promoted George to management, first as an emergency foreman for six months, next as district operator for Brooklyn and Queens for ten years, and then as system operator for ten years.

"System operator's the guy you blame if there's a blackout," George says. "It was a nerve-wracking little job, lots of pressure, but I loved it. You had to make predictions as to how much generation to load on line for the next day, and these predictions in turn were based on weather forecasts. If the forecast was off ten degrees, you would have too much voltage on the line, and then it was your job to get it off line in a hurry before you started blowing insulators, and if during the course of all of this, you had a trip-out on the system, you really had to move like a two-headed spider."

George retired from Con Ed in 1988, and eventually he and Rosemary moved to a lovely home nestled in the hills of North Carolina to enjoy a well-deserved retirement. George stayed busy, though; his motto is, "you rest, you rust." Remarkably fit for a man his age, he played racquetball, man-handled boulders in a garden project, and walked 18 holes of golf, three times a week. His golfing buddy has very poor eyesight, so George would sprint to his partner's ball for a little extra cardiovascular.

In August, 1996, George developed a cough and a pain in his side while on a big family vacation in the Outer Banks. George's main strength is also his chief weakness, as he readily admits it: "I'm a thick-headed Dutchman, with a high tolerance for pain." At first, George just ignored the pain, expecting it to simply go away, as it always had before.

But this pain wouldn't go away, and George finally sought medical attention.

The sequence of events familiar to mesotheliotics unfolded for George as well. The doctors drained liters of fluid from George's body. The fluid was non-diagnostic. Then the doctors took biopsies from the pleura, the lining containing George's chest and lungs, and performed a talc pleurodesis, "plastering" George's left lung to the side of his rib.

Then came the dreaded diagnosis. Mesothelioma. George had never heard of it. His doctor explained to him that it was always fatal. George sought a second opinion from Dr. Corey Langer at Philadelphia's Fox Chase Hospital. Dr. Langer confirmed the diagnosis, and explained some of the cutting-edge treatment options available.

George's response? His words reveal his characteristic determination:

"I HAVE NO INTENTIONS OF LETTING IT TAKE ME!"

However, George has for the time being declined "active" treatment and chosen "watchful waiting", in which his doctors closely monitor his health while George fights back with a positive attitude and "lots of prayer."

So far, so good. George still golfs three times a week, but admits he has cut back to playing nine holes and riding in a cart rather than walking. His robust appearance and good cheer inspires his family, his friends, and his lawyer in New York, my colleague and dear friend, Tre' Smith, who is a partner in the litigation firm of Delaney and Smith. Tre and I work on many mesothelioma cases that are filed in New York. Tre is an excellent lawyer with unmatched "people skills." In his first asbestos trial ever, our client (Gabe Hoz) was awarded $2.4 million.

Tre' writes: "Each of the asbestos companies has its own distinct corporate personality. A few companies try to be responsible for the hurt they've caused, while other companies are just the opposite. Corporations tend to choose lawyers who match their point of view, and this can lead to some brutal encounters. After one of these, I try to think of George, and the way he has lived his life, and fought this disease, and conducted himself in his lawsuit: with dignity, with grace, and with grit. And then I tell myself: 'Go and do likewise.'"

Delaney & Smith and my firm applied for the "fast-track" available for mesotheliotics with a history of New York City-area exposure; George's suit against the asbestos companies was filed in May and is scheduled for jury trial in November.

Best of luck, George. Stay focused and keep it in the fairway.

See the result of George's lawsuit.

** POSTED OCTOBER 10, 1997 **

Mr. George Barg passed away on October 24, 1998