STONEMASON of 38 years, Anthony Constantine’s silicosis death sentence has likely been delayed after he underwent an experimental lung flushing procedure last month.
The 56-year-old is one of just six silicosis patients in Australia to take part in the cutting-edge therapy that may dramatically slow the progression of the fatal disease in workers such as himself who have extensive lung scarring as a result of long-term inhalation of silica dust.
“Just knowing that horrible stuff is not inside me anymore is just such a relief, I’m not stressed about it anymore. My mental load has been lifted,” he said.
“It’s given me more hope that I won’t get any worse and that I’ll become more stable.
“If they can find people early enough, who don’t have any scarring and they can wash it out, it’s potentially lifesaving.”
Mr Constantine, of Carindale, was working on the Jewel development in Surfers Paradise in 2019 when he first realised something didn’t feel quite right.
He’d left his phone in the car so ran back to get it, but upon his return to the worksite he told a colleague he felt like he’d just run a marathon.
“It seemed pretty bad so I thought I’d better get it checked out, and that’s how I found it something was majorly wrong,” he said.
The quietly spoken tradie sheepishly admitted that he “sat on” his X-rays for three months after reading the report suggesting he may have silicosis. A visit to the doctor confirmed his worst fears.
“Being given a death sentence was a shock, I basically shut down,” he said.
“I thought I wouldn’t get it because everyone I’ve worked with for the past 30 years is OK, but I’ve since found out silicosis is a discriminatory disease.
“It picks some people and not others, it’s a cruel disease.”
Fortunately he was recently referred to Professor Dan Chambers at The Prince Charles Hospital who suggested a lung lavage procedure.
Mr Constantine said he never knew how potentially fatal silicosis was and thought it only happened in places such as mines.
“When I was an apprentice I’m sure I remember them mentioning something like silicosis, but there was no protection and we all just dry cut, dust was just everywhere all of the time.
“Back then the older blokes would say that after we’d dry cut we should just get a litre of milk and drink that. I was told that’s what they had done.
“I’ve spoken to men in their 70s who probably have silicosis but they just don’t want to know.”
Later in his career when engineered stone was first introduced, in the early 2000s, Mr Constantine said he hated cutting the product because it had a “gruesome smell to it”.
“Having this procedure has truly changed my life, I can’t thank everyone enough.”
“THAT MAN IS MY HERO”
WHEN father-of-six Adam Emery first contacted the Bulletin in April this year he had resigned himself to missing out on seeing his children grow up.
The 35-year-old has a 1.8cm growth in his lung caused by long-term inhalation of silica dust and told the Bulletin at the time that he felt he was “dying for some rich f***er’s engineered stone benchtop”.
He was then approached by Professor Dan Chambers with an offer he couldn’t refuse — a lung flush that could potentially prolong his life expectancy.
“That man is my hero,” said Mr Emery, of Prof Chambers, the softly-spoken doctor dedicated to saving the lives of silicosis sufferers across Australia and the globe.
“I’ve never met a doctor or specialist like him.
“His compassion and commitment to treating silicosis and his patients was the gamechanger for me.
“After my diagnosis of progressive massive fibrosis (severe silicosis with extensive lung scarring) I started seeing Prof Chambers.
“At that stage I would become breathless lying in bed. He ran through the lung lavage procedure with me and thought I was a good candidate.”
Mr Emery said the procedure was an overnight stay but after each lung was flushed he felt slightly better and months later noticed some slight improvement in his lung function.
Most importantly, Mr Emery is now optimistic he’ll be able to watch his children grow.
“The procedure really helped me psychologically,” he said.
Article originally appeared in the Gold Coast Bulletin.