The story of how George Dreith III was exposed to asbestos is an all-too-common tragedy. The story of how he responded to his mesothelioma diagnosis is a tale of hope and strength. George’s zest for life and composure during his final year forever marked his Illinois community, who still fight for asbestos prevention each year in his name.
George was raised in a hardworking family in Alton, Illinois. His father was an aircraft mechanic, his mother worked at a dry cleaners, his uncle labored in the steel industry and his grandfather was in manufacturing. These diligent men and women instilled in George a work ethic he carried with him through high school, Western Illinois University, and into a successful career.
Sadly, when George’s parents and relatives came home after demanding days of work, they were unaware that they had been exposed to asbestos. Before the dangers were finally publicized in the 1970s, many companies used asbestos to insulate their buildings and factories—the mineral was cheap, durable and flame-resistant.
Asbestos was used in material for floors, walls and roofs, and was sprayed extensively on machines and ceilings. As factories aged and buildings deteriorated, the deadly asbestos fibers were released into the air. Asbestos was also used in machine parts, like aircraft brake pads and wire insulation. George’s father likely encountered degraded asbestos year-round.
The companies they worked for knew of the cancer risks posed by asbestos, but they failed to alert those affected. Workers breathed in deadly asbestos fibers on the job, or carried them home on their clothes, exposing their families.
Exposure to asbestos carries with it the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma, a lethal cancer with no cure. As a child, George was exposed to asbestos through his family, and as a young man, he encountered asbestos again on industry job sites. Decades later, when George experienced shortness of breath, he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma.
Finding Strength in Family—Living Each Day to the Fullest
George refused to let his mesothelioma diagnosis dictate the terms of his life. He fought through the sickness and fatigue that came with numerous rounds of chemotherapy. In spite of the pain and bleak prognosis, George continued to find value and happiness. According to his wife, Chris:
“George relished the everyday moments in life that year: playing numerous rounds of golf with his son Tyler, laying on the couch watching his favorite TV shows, sitting on the screened in back porch of his home, and visiting with friends and family.”
Instead of growing bitter about the injustice of his illness, George redoubled his efforts to maintain a positive attitude. He remained friendly and kept his constant smile. In the year after his diagnosis, he became a grandfather and walked his daughter Alison down the aisle.
When he passed away on June 12, 2015, everyone who knew him remembered the kind man who never lost his spirit. Mesothelioma took his life, but how he lived continues to inspire people to this day.
Georgie Porgie’s Meso Patrol
In 2014, in the middle of his mesothelioma treatment, George and his family took part in the 6th Annual Miles for Meso in Alton. Miles for Meso organizes races across the country that raise awareness and money to aid mesothelioma research and advocacy. Since the first 5K run/walk in 2009, over $650,000 has been raised.
George’s team, named “Georgie Porgie’s Meso Patrol,” numbered 65 people and won top honors for raising $5,000. Together with 17 other teams, that year’s Miles for Meso event raised more than $30,000. The following year, three months after George passed, his team participated in Miles for Meso in his honor. It has become a new and valuable tradition.
Chris Dreith, George’s widow, says her team will return to the race in 2019. “Participating in the Miles for Meso race has helped very much in the healing process,” she said. “It means the world to me.” Chris encourages other families affected by mesothelioma to get involved:
“[Miles for Meso] reminds you how much others care and it makes you feel good that you are doing something to make a difference.”
As they honor their namesake each year they run, Georgie Porgie’s Meso Patrol increases awareness about mesothelioma and raises funds for research. His friends and family have also started an annual golf tournament in his name.
Chris attributes the success of their team to the caring and generous team members who are committed to networking and educating others about the dangers of asbestos. Their sustained commitment in the years after George’s death is a testament to his lasting impact. In a journal entry shared by his family after his death, George left an inspiring call to action:
“I ask you all to do two things for me: First, each morning look to the heavens and thank God for another great day on this Earth and enjoy it with your loved ones and friends. Second, please pass forward the love you have shown me to others. You can’t believe how much it means. Thanks for being my friend.”
Asbestos exposure forever changed George Dreith’s destiny. Neither he nor his family were properly warned about the dangers of asbestos, and they paid dearly for it. Yet the force of his personality, the love of his family and the strength of his Alton community continue to make a difference for mesothelioma victims to this day.
Miles for Meso 2019 Will Benefit Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization
Simmons Hanly Conroy and the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation are proud to honor George, his family and all of the teams that participate in Miles for Meso events across the country. The funds raised become important resources for scientists and advocates in the fight against mesothelioma and asbestos exposure.
This year, the money raised by Miles for Meso events is going to the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). Through the persistent efforts of the organization and its president, Linda Reinstein, ADAO has become a force to be reckoned with in Washington D.C. No longer are victims of mesothelioma suffering in secret.
This is why groups like ADAO are critically important, according to Chris Dreith. Despite the clear evidence that asbestos is deadly, it is not banned and victims are routinely denied support.
“I feel that without groups like ADAO advocating for these things,” she says, “corporations and government would continue to disregard human loss and suffering caused by the use of asbestos.”
At the end of a productive Global Asbestos Awareness Week, it is important to keep the momentum going. There is a bill to ban asbestos in both the House and the Senate. It’s named after Linda’s late husband, Alan Reinstein, but as she will tell you, the bill “is about the hundreds of thousands of Alan’s who have been diagnosed or died from preventable asbestos-caused diseases.”
Join Chris, Linda, the Meso Patrol and thousands of other innocent people who have had their lives destroyed by a preventable asbestos-related disease. Call your elected officials. Speak up for future generations. Make sure America puts itself on track to becoming asbestos-free.