The deadly cost of asbestos: Kiwi's story

Global surfer and retired tuna spotter Kenneth (Kiwi) White, didn’t think twice about helping out his builder when he was doing Kiwi’s home renovations. But now, he wishes he had.

Because if he had known that there was asbestos in his home, which led to him contracting mesothelioma, a fatal and rare cancer, he would have left well alone.

Small community, big heart

Kiwi had been fit and healthy most of his life, travelling to over 101 different countries surfing, working as a tuna spotter and even landing a small part in a Mel Gibson movie.

Well loved by his local community in Port Lincoln, where he lives with his wife, Kiwi was known for his positive attitude and love of life.

But in early 2019, Kiwi realised something was up. He was having trouble breathing, struggling with his surfing, his moods had become unpredictable and he didn’t feel like eating or doing anything active.

When he first had tests done, doctors initially gave him the all clear, but Kiwi insisted on further testing. Two weeks later, he was called back into the doctors for his results.

A fatal diagnosis

“As soon as I walked into the surgery, the doctor said ‘go home, pack your bags, we’re admitting you into hospital and we’re going to fly you to Adelaide for emergency surgery,’” Kiwi recalls. “He mentioned the big C word and he mentioned oncologist and I thought ‘oh no! That’s not me! Can’t be me!’”

Kiwi had a collapsed right lung, and had 3 litres of fluid in his lungs.

“My oncologist sat at the end of my bed and told me that I had very aggressive stage 4 mesothelioma and it’s fatal,” says Kiwi. “And I said, thanks for telling me, at least I know what I’ve got.”

He had his lungs drained and immediately started on-going chemotherapy treatment, flying from his home in Port Lincoln to Adelaide frequently.

“I’m in constant pain, especially on my right-hand side where my kidneys are,” says Kiwi. “It’s now at the size of a tennis ball and despite taking pain medications, I’m still in a lot of pain and they can’t work out why.”

In less than 6 months, Kiwi has lost over 10kg and chemical changes have affected his moods. He is no longer able to live the active life he has always led.

What is mesothelioma?

Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, with between 700 and 800 people diagnosed each year. It’s an incredibly aggressive form of cancer caused by exposure to raw asbestos. Those diagnosed are usually given less than a year to live.

Asbestos is dangerous when you remove or disturb it, both of which you may do during a renovation. That’s what happened to Kiwi - he described how, during the renovations, they handled the asbestos with absolutely no safety gear.

“The doctors told me that I had mesothelioma and it’s a rare disease only caused by raw asbestos,” says Kiwi. “[They said] that as soon as I can, I should ring up a good lawyer and they’ll help,” Kiwi said.

It was his positivity and motivation to beat this disease and fight that made him ring up Maurice Blackburn Lawyers. Kiwi describes his lawyers Sally and Emily as “absolutely amazing.”

“They have been sympathetic with the whole story and they said they are going to fight for me because it’s completely knocked my lifestyle,” Kiwi says.

The settlement Maurice Blackburn is fighting for on behalf of Kiwi will pay for expensive therapy to help him fight the cancer, improve the quality of his life and reduce pain. It will also support his wife, who has become his full-time carer.

Positive steps

Kiwi still has a bucket list, and he hopes that this treatment will help him tick some things off his list, including his dream to win the over 85s division in the Crescent Head Surfing Competition.

Kiwi also encourages people to be aware of the dangers of asbestos. He says that the way people are disregarding the dangers of silica dust today remind him of how people used to think asbestos was safe.

This month is Asbestos Awareness Month and Maurice Blackburn is raising awareness about the dangers of asbestos, how to make sure you protect yourself if asbestos might be present in. your home, and what to do if you have any concerns about it.

If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos, but are yet to develop any symptoms, record your exposure now on our Dust Register.

If you’ve developed a lung disease as a result of exposure to asbestos or any other dust, get in contact with someone from our team. It won’t cost you anything to find out where you stand.


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Jonathan Walsh

Maurice Blackburn Brisbane

Jonathan Walsh is a Principal and the Queensland practice group leader for asbestos law and dust diseases, based in Maurice Blackburn’s Brisbane office. Jonathan is also a Law Society of NSW Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury (Dust Diseases). This additional qualification stands him head and shoulders above most other lawyers who specialise in asbestos law.

Graduating from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of M…

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