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Pipefitter/Fisherman Mantains Sense Of Humor


Seventy-nine year-old Harold Kern worked as a pipefitter for over 32 years, primarily in Ohio, but in Michigan and California as well. Over the course of 58 years of marriage, Harold and his wife Evelyndale raised two daughters, Rosanna and Dianna, and were blessed with seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. Harold retired in 1985 at the age of 62 to do the things he loved, including taking his family fishing.

In addition to their home in Lorain, Ohio, the Kerns have a trailer in Lakeside, one of the Ohio South Passage islands on Lake Erie. Harold fished there at least three to four times a week. He showed the kids how to bait the hooks, and how to catch the big ones. He told big stories, too, and made everybody laugh.

In September of 1997, Evelyndale and Harold were out on the boat perch fishing. He began to feel hot so he took off his shirt. But it wasn't hot. In fact, there was a chill in the air. Evelyndale got worried. Soon Harold was drenched with sweat and nauseous. Harold looked at his wife worriedly and said it was time go home. Quickly they docked, secured the boat and rushed back to Lorain to see Harold's doctor.

Harold's longtime doctor took a chest film which revealed a pleural effusion. The doctors drained nearly one and one-half quarts of fluid from his right chest cavity. On September 25, 1997, a local surgeon removed Harold's eighth rib and the right pleura. Pathological testing confirmed the diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma. At the time, the surgeon felt that he had removed all of the cancer. Mr. Kern did not undergo any radiation or chemotherapy, but was monitored closely every three months with blood work and CT scans. All seemed well. He began enjoying his retirement years again as best he could.

In late 1998, while vacationing at their Lakeside trailer, Mr. Kern became extremely sick. He found it hard to breathe. He returned home to Lorain and went directly to his primary care physician, who provided him with an inhaler to aid his breathing. His physician referred him to an oncologist. The oncologist informed the Kerns that the mesothelioma had returned and that while the prognosis was grim, Harold could try chemotherapy, if he was willing.

Harold began chemotherapy treatments with Cisplatin in January of 1999. In his video-taped trial testimony, Harold described his ordeal: "Each treatment entailed . . . four bottles, big bottles . . . they put it all in one jug, it would be over a gallon of it, and it took seven hours to administer that intravenously into your arm. Sat there in that chair for seven hours and do that, that's probably a little tougher than sitting here and answering all these questions. But we got to keep that sense of humor."

Harold's last treatment was March 15, 1999. A CT scan on that day showed the tumor had grown. His oncologist discontinued chemotherapy, telling Harold that there wasn't anything else that could be done.

After receiving this prognosis, the Kerns realistically planned for the worst. They interviewed hospice candidates, drafted a living will, and made the necessary arrangements for when Mrs. Kern would be unable to care for her husband by herself.

We are sad to report that Harold lost his fight with mesothelioma on July 25, 1999. We regret that he and his family were subjected to such torture and anguish. In the end, Harold was "just skin and bones with tubes sticking out of him." But this is not how we remember Harold.

We remember a man who finished grueling chemotherapy so he could gather together with all his loving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to celebrate his 79th and last birthday. We remember a man who kept trying to find a cure for his disease, who fought to the end. And we remember a man who kept his sense of humor, even when he was too sick for the simple pleasures of fishing. The last time I spoke to him, I asked him about the big, beautiful boat stored in the yard behind his home. I asked how fast his boat would go, he answered with a twinkle in his eye and a chuckle, "How big of a Walleye do you want to catch?"

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kerns.

** POSTED AUGUST 9, 1999 **