Breathing hope into a silicosis diagnosis: Daniel’s story
Patient Stories

Breathing hope into a silicosis diagnosis: Daniel’s story

Daniel, 44, is a loving husband and father of four who was recently diagnosed with silicosis.

Fortunately for Daniel, it was identified early during a routine medical check-up. The early diagnosis meant he was a candidate for a Whole Lung Lavage trial being carried out at The Prince Charles Hospital and supported by The Common Good.

I completed a landscaping trade straight out of school, but it wasn’t for me. What was clear though was that I had a love of operating machinery, so a friend of mine encouraged me to enter the tunnelling industry. My first job was helping build the Lane Cove Tunnel in Sydney in the early 2000s. It was a huge project. I began by operating the Roadheader machine, which moves forward underground, excavating through the rock face. It’s incredible what these machines can do. For the next 20-odd years, I continued enjoying my work using various machines underground in Queensland and New South Wales.

In 2021, shortly after turning 42 and commencing as a supervisor on a new tunnelling project, I went for a routine medical screening. I do these types of tests regularly, so I wasn’t concerned. For the first time, however, my chest X-ray results came back as ‘abnormal’. My first thought was that perhaps the X-ray machine was faulty or there had been an error in the results. I didn’t consider for one moment that something could be amiss in my lungs. After the initial X-ray results, I followed up with more detailed lung scans.

I had acute silicosis – a lung disease with no cure. 

Grappling with a silicosis diagnosis

I knew what silicosis was, and I had an understanding of how it came about. But I always took precautions. I always wore my mask. This diagnosis was a massive shock to my family and I.

I consider myself a relatively fit and healthy person; in addition to coaching my sons’ soccer and rugby teams, I run most days, recently entered a Spartan challenge, and was training for a half marathon. An occupational lung disease was not something that I thought was on the cards for me.

While we were trying to adjust to this news and work out a way forward, my wife revealed some surprising news. She was pregnant with baby number four!

It was an absolute roller-coaster of a few months, filled with decisions and appointments.

When I think about it, though, I didn’t want to admit to anyone, let alone myself, that I had been coughing more than usual prior to the silicosis diagnosis. I also felt like it had been getting harder and harder to take proper deep breaths when working out, which was unusual for me, but I just pushed it to the back of my mind and thought perhaps it was all just a part of getting older.

As a family, we delved right into research about silicosis. To learn that silicosis is incurable, usually fatal, and the fact that there are so many unknowns about it – was terrifying. I was only 42. What if I couldn’t work anymore? How was I supposed to support my growing family?

One day, my wife mentioned she read an article about a possible treatment for silicosis patients – a Whole Lung Lavage  trial happening in Brisbane. We contacted Professor Daniel Chambers from The Prince Charles Hospital and the University of Queensland immediately to see whether I’d have a chance at being accepted into the trial.

When you’re facing a life-limiting, incurable disease, you need to have some hope, and being on the Whole Lung Lavage trial was the hope my young family needed.

A few meetings, phone calls and consultations later, I was accepted into the trial. I was able to undergo this ground-breaking procedure, and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I know so many people now who have silicosis, and sadly for many, the Whole Lung Lavage trial was not a suitable option for them as their silicosis had progressed too far.

Experiencing the whole lung lavage

In October 2022, while under general anaesthetic, I had one lung washed out with saline. It took about four or five hours. I had a few weeks of recovery, and then I was readmitted to have the procedure done on the other lung. I guess it’s kind of like washing out a big kitchen sponge, but it was my lungs instead.

In the few months that have passed, I’ve had more appointments and lung function tests. It seems that this procedure could actually be making me better. I already feel like I can inhale a little more comfortably.

Not only is it good for me personally to be part of this trial and to know that some of this deadly silica has already been washed out of my lungs, but being part of a trial gives me pride knowing that, hopefully, the results will show that this treatment has potential, and will open up the opportunity for more people to have a chance at better health outcomes.

While I’m still not quite sure what the future holds for me, I’m so grateful that my silicosis was found early, giving me the chance to be part of this trial. It’s offered a wave of relief, and I feel like I can focus a bit more on my family again – instead of focusing on a lung disease that could take a stranglehold of our lives.  

You can support life-changing lung disease research for patients like Daniel. Donate today to the Tradie Health Institute and help create hope for silicosis patients.

Published: May 10, 2023

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