AN ENTHUSIASTIC charity volunteer, keen photographer and music lover, until last summer Gerald Bythell appeared in good health despite his 78 years.
But by the end of September he was dead, a victim of mesothelioma, a cancer of the tissues lining the lungs and abdomen, which is most often linked to exposure to asbestos.
So sudden was his decline, and so late his diagnosis, his family has struggled to come to terms with his death and hopes former workmates of Mr Bythell, who lived most of his life in Brynmawr, will come forward to help them pursue a claim for compensation on behalf of his widow Evelyn.
Mr Bythell, who did voluntary work for mental health charity Mencap, worked at the former Dunlop Semtex factory in Brynmawr, and then at Cooper’s Filters in Abergavenny, for a total of more than 20 years, until 1987, in conditions in which he could have been exposed to asbestos.
And though it is not known for sure whether his disease developed as a result of his time with these employers, his family is seeking to compile a picture of his working life to help with a claim.
Both operations are long since closed, but if they were insured a claim would most likely be pursued through their insurers.
Mesothelioma commonly does not develop for three decades or more after initial exposure to asbestos, and Mr Bythell’s illness only became fully apparent last summer.
“Last March he had a cough and cold and he just couldn’t shake it,” said step-daughter Jane Wellington, who lives in Swansea.
“He wasn’t the sort of person to go back and forth to his GP, but in the end he went. He was sent for an X-ray and they discovered something a little more sinister. While waiting for a CT scan he started losing weight. By August he couldn’t keep anything down. He died in September.
“We just didn’t have a chance to say goodbye properly, or have time to make plans and provisions for our mother. Gerald was such an active person but his health declined to such a degree that within a matter of days he had become very unwell.”
Mrs Wellington hopes the appeal for his former colleagues to come forward will also help keep the issue of asbestos-related mesothelioma in the spotlight. She has driven all over the Brynmawr area with her mother trying to remember friends who may have worked with Mr Bythell, but so far to no avail.
Mr Bythell was working at Cooper’s Filters when he met his wife. He worked at Dunlop Semtex from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, before moving to Cooper’s Filters. The family is keen to hear from colleagues from both sites.
“He was a very charismatic character, and we’re hoping people will remember him and come forward,” said Mrs Wellington.
Anyone who can help can contact solicitors Hugh James on 029 2078 5691, or e-mail Simon.Ellis@HughJames.com