Orange County Register writes up mesotheliom fundraiser

Thursday, February 15, 2007
Benefit raises $250,000
Chris Botti and his band take the stage for mesothelioma research.
By BARBARA POTTER
Orange County Register

Twenty-six years ago actor and Hollywood legend Steve McQueen died from exposure to asbestos.

Each year up to 3,000 patients in the United States are diagnosed with the same form of aggressive cancer – mesothelioma. This slow growing cancer is linked to asbestos, a natural fiber that was once used in manufacturing industrial and household products. Medical studies show that men in their mid-60s are most often affected, but women have also been diagnosed with the disease.

For McQueen, it was contracted from his years stripping asbestos off hot pipes on U.S. Navy ships and from the flame retardant race car driver suits that he wore.

To raise funds for research for this rare cancer, Roger and Ann Worthington held an asbestos cancer benefit featuring Grammy-award winner and jazz musician Chris Botti. The event was held at the Worthington’s beautiful Capistrano Beach home on Feb. 10. Barbara McQueen, wife of Steve McQueen, also made an appearance and autographed copies of her book, “Steve McQueen: The Last Mile,” a publication of never before seen photos she took of Steve more than 25 years ago.

Roger Worthington, Barbara McQueen and Chris Botti also have in common that all three are from the same small community of Corvallis, Oregon.

Also gracing the stage was Jordan Zevon, a singer and songwriter, and Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France, who raised his voice for the need to end asbestos-related cancer.

“It was a smashing success. People had a whole lot of fun and it was great to have some of the best jazz artists performing in our front yard,” Roger Worthington said.

By Monday evening, he said he had received many “hugs and kisses” via e-mail, thanking the couple for a wonderful evening.

More than $250,000 was raised at the event, which will go to the Punch Worthington Research Lab at the Pacific Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for research projects in finding a cure for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Roger Worthington’s father, David “Punch” Worthington died from asbestos poisoning on Aug. 25, 2006. In August 2002, Warren Zevon, an acclaimed folk musician and father of Jordan Zevon, also died of the disease. Jordan, sang his father’s classic song, “Werewolves of London,” at the benefit. Chris Botti’s drummer Billy Kilson also performed – his mother recently died from mesothelioma.

For the past 18 years Roger Worthington, an attorney, has taken on his clients’ cause. In 1999, he founded The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation to advance funding and research toward finding a cure.

“A lot of passion comes from personal experience,” he said.

Worthington has helped more than 400 clients over the years in asbestos-related cases.

“We’re very aggressive and we get the highest settlements,” he said.

The Veterans Administration does not have a program to treat its patients diagnosed with mesothelioma.

“The government has not taken this (mesothelioma) seriously,” Worthington said.

Jessica Like, executive director of Pacific Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Los Angeles, said the evening was a wonderful outpouring from the more than 350 people who attended the fundraiser.

“People connected with other mesothelioma patients, survivors and their families. Doctors also got to speak with each other and with patients, too. It was a great networking experience, a total success,” she said.

Also among the guests was Sandy Hazen, whose husband Tom also died of the disease in 2000. She was instrumental in organizing the fundraiser, Worthington said.

“For eight months, my husband battled mesothelioma,” she said.

“It isn’t a blue collar disease. It doesn’t respect job titles – judges, accountants, doctors, inventors, housewives, school children have had it – it’s not a ship yard disease,” Worthington said.

Funds raised included $15,000 from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Union, $60,000 from the estate of David “Punch” Worthington, $50,000 from the law firm of Simon, Eddins and Greenstone, $25,000 from Roger Worthington, $10,000 from John Markovich, $10,000 from the law firm of Simmons Cooper and $5,000 from Owens-Illinois. Auction items also raised $9,000, from sculptures by Eric Peltzer and Alex Pavlenko, paintings by local artist Rick Delanty and Thomas Schmidt and photographs of Steve McQueen and limited edition copies of Barbara McQueen’s book.

Mesothelioma can take 20-40 years to develop tumors. Possible signs include shortness of breath, pain under the rib cage, pain or swelling in the abdomen, lumps in the abdomen and weight loss for no known reason. There is no cure, and treatments are limited. Until recently mesothelioma patients have lived only months after diagnosis, but advancements in research have extended some patients’ lives by three to five years.

To make a donation for mesothlioma research go to www.phlbi.org/pages/make_gift.htm

Contact the writer: bpotter@ocregister.com or 949-492-5135

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