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Inspiration who was brave to the end


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Inspiration who was brave to the end

by Carl Marsden & Fay Schlesinger

3/ 9/2008

AN inspirational Failsworth woman has become the youngest person in the UK to die from an asbestos-related cancer.

Leigh Carlisle, 28, was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a form of lung cancer caused by breathing in asbestos fibres – back in 2006 following years of investigation by doctors.

Sadly, she lost her fight for life at the North Manchester General last Wednesday.

Leigh and lawyers acting on her behalf believed she had developed the condition during childhood. Initial investigations centred around whether she could have contracted it by taking a shortcut to school through a factory yard where asbestos was cut.

But her lawyers had recently ruled that out and – just days before her death – submitted a Freedom of Inform-ation (FOI) request to Oldham Council to determine whether asbestos was present in three Failsworth schools she attended as a youngster. They have this week confirmed the fight for answers will continue.

Leigh, who worked in public relations and marketing until her diagnosis in 2006, had campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of mesothelioma and encouraged investigations into schools built in the 1960s and early 1970s.

She also volunteered her services to Cancer Research UK as a public speaker and their campaigns ambassador. Unsurprisingly, tributes have poured in this week.

Michael Price, her partner, said: "Leigh had so much courage and strength. She was an inspiration to me and others."

Her mother, Sheila, added: "Leigh is still very much a part of our family and will always be a treasured daughter, sister and auntie. Everyone remains so proud of her."

Failsworth councillor Jim McMahon, who met Leigh via her work with Oldham Cancer Research, said: "There are some people you meet and get a real sense that you are near someone very special. It is hard to quantify that, but Leigh was one of those people.

"My thoughts are with her family and they can seek some comfort and be very proud of the inspiration Leigh gave to those she met and all that she achieved."

Adrian Budgen, from Irwin Mitchell, the law firm representing Leigh, said there are now more than 2,000 cases of the incurable mesothelioma disease each year in the UK: making it more common than cervical cancer.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the deadly effects of asbestos, although mesothelioma – which is an aggressive cancer which attacks a thin membrane coating the lungs and abdomen – can take more than 20 years to reveal itself after exposure.

"For a long time it has been the forgotten cancer and the silent epidemic," he said."Leigh’s case shows it cannot be seen as an ‘old person’s disease’ any more."

Mr Budgen cautions against a panic reaction but thinks other victims could surface. He wants the government and the Health and Safety Executive to compile a register of buildings, especially hospitals and schools, where asbestos could have been present.

"There is a big issue about asbestos in schools built in the post-war period," he said. "When doors are slammed by young children or chairs are pushed against pipes it can disturb the asbestos. This may have happened to Leigh."

He added: "Invisible fibres can be released in this way – the problem is that they are microscopic – and we know that children with underdeveloped lungs are especially susceptible."

Children have also been known to develop the disease after being exposed to asbestos dust on their parents’ clothes and, in one case, an ex-teacher from Cheshire is though to have contracted mesothelioma from school pipes.

Oldham Council was asked by the Advertiser about the progress it has made with the FOI request from Leigh’s lawyers about her schooling years – from 1984 to 1996 Leigh was a pupil at Propps Hall and Mather Street primary schools, and Failsworth School.

A spokesman said: "We have been in contact with Irwin Mitchell to explain the complexity of sourcing the information they have requested and they have agreed to an extension to the end of this month to receive our response. This is, of course, a very difficult time for the Carlisle family and they have the council’s every sympathy. We would wish to stress to them , indeed all parents of school-going children then and now, that the health and safety of pupils, as well as teachers and staff working in Oldham’s schools, is, and always has been, our paramount concern."

Leigh’s funeral was taking place at 11am on Thursday at St Mary’s RC Church, Failsworth, followed by internment at Failsworth Cemetery. Her family has asked for donations to be made to the Oldham Cancer Support Centre, based at Failsworth Health Centre.

Leigh’s partner, Michael Price, said: "Leigh would have liked to think that she helped the cancer centre to support other people."

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