Firefighter Battled Mesothelioma As Bravely as He Fought House Fires

Massachusetts firefighter Mike Urban went to the doctor last July complaining of wheezing, thinking that he might have developed asthma. A lab tech noticed something on the initial chest x-ray and a doctor ordered a CT scan of the chest. A followup ultrasound showed fluid in Urban’s chest which suggested the possibility of an infection […]

Massachusetts firefighter Mike Urban went to the doctor last July complaining of wheezing, thinking that he might have developed asthma. A lab tech noticed something on the initial chest x-ray and a doctor ordered a CT scan of the chest. A followup ultrasound showed fluid in Urban’s chest which suggested the possibility of an infection or tumor.

Within a month, Urban, 57, a relatively healthy outsdoorsman who’d never had health problems, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lung caused by asbestos exposure.

Urban’s family doesn’t know exactly how he was exposed to asbestos. According to the National Cancer Institute, firefighters are among the workers most at risk of exposure to asbestos, which was used as insulation and in building materials for much of the 20th century.

In April 2009, the U.S. Fire Administration and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health announced a national study to examine the potential increased risk of cancers including mesothelioma among firefighters. By studying health data of 18,000 firefighters, the researchers will try to determine whether firefighters as a group develop more cancers and whether the cancers are associated with exposures to contaminants to which firefighters are exposed in the line of duty.

Whenever the fire alarm sounded, Urban was first firefighter out the door of Fire Station No. 2 in Framingham, Mass., according to the MetroWest Daily News newspaper. He was a brave firefighter who didn’t like to give up the nozzle, one who liked to stay in the fight. Urban was devoted family man who talked about his daughters and a passionate outsdoorman who was happiest in a tree stand. He took pleasure in cooking wild turkey pot pie and venison stroganoff for his fellow firefighters. His fellow firefighters teased Urban about being an “old man” at aged 57 and raved about his good cooking.

Just as he battled fires, Urban was determined to fight mesothelioma. Urban underwent radical mesothelioma surgery in September to try to slow the advance of the aggressive asbestos-related cancer. Dr. David Sugarbaker, a renowned mesothelioma specialist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, removed Urban’s right lung, the pleura or lining of the lung, diaphragm, lymph nodes and visible tumors. The inside of Urban’s chest also received a chemical bath in chemotherapy drugs, a technique pioneered by Dr. Sugarbaker to help eradicate undetected mesothelioma cells.

Urban hoped to recover. After the surgery, he had one lung, but tried to walk to regain his strength. He continued to have shortness of breath and a deep painful cough. He realized the shortness of breath wasn’t normal. By December, he had a build up of fluid on his remaining lung. On January 4, doctors informed Urban and his family that the mesothelioma had spread into his bones and there was nothing more they could do to treat him, according to a blog kept by his wife, Maureen.

Urban died Jan. 7. Last week, black bunting hung on all the fire stations in Framingham, Massachusetts as his fellow firefighters grieved the loss of one of their own. Mesothelioma, a cancer associated with asbestos exposure, takes the lives of 2,500 to 3,000 Americans each year. Many people exposed to asbestos develop symptoms decades after the initial exposure to asbestos.

Source: Fireman Remembered

 

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