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Burlene Jones and her husband Sherman had been married for 63 years when Burlene passed away. The couple and their three children — Sheryl, Debbie and Steve — were extremely close-knit. They’d take family vacations together during retirement when Burlene and Sherman became Florida snowbirds.
In addition to being a talented office worker during an era when it was uncommon for women to work, Burlene was also an athlete and a musician. She played the piano in church, glee club and even performed gigs in a jazz band.
Although she lived to be 82 years old, the circumstances of her death were tragic. Despite working in office settings for her entire career, Burlene died from mesothelioma — a rare cancer linked with asbestos exposure.
Sadly, Burlene developed the aggressive cancer from secondhand asbestos exposure by washing Sherman’s work clothes throughout their marriage.
In the early 1950s, Sherman worked at the St. Louis railroad terminal, unloading boxcars of burlap bags filled with raw asbestos from Rhodesia. He also made asbestos shingles and was an asbestos pipe cutter.
For almost 40 years, Sherman was employed by Union Electric. During that time, he worked underground installing asbestos-containing conduits. He also worked as a laborer and used asbestos-containing tape to repair overhead wires.
In his decades of work with and around asbestos, Sherman would always wear his work clothes home, which Burlene would then wash.
However, Sherman was never given any warning about asbestos exposure or that he may be at risk, let alone that he could be putting his beloved family at risk. He was never given any special equipment to protect himself and his loved ones as he handled the deadly material.
Burlene complained about pain on her left side for years, but nothing ever seemed to be wrong.
In October 2011, she went to the hospital with shortness of breath, which the family worried was pneumonia. The diagnosis turned out to be far worse.
Burlene was given bronchial washing, in which a thin tube is inserted into the lungs to collect cells by washing a mild salt solution over the airways.
Although the procedure didn’t detect any malignant cells, a needle biopsy eventually revealed Burlene had malignant pleural mesothelioma. She was given only one year to live.
Even though she was over 80 years old, Burlene was determined to fight her cancer diagnosis through chemotherapy. Sadly, she developed more spots on her lungs, which called for a more aggressive type of chemotherapy that required blood transfusions.
Within a short time, Burlene’s mesothelioma treatment started to make her very ill. She began to lose energy and had to miss church. She was forced to stop going on family vacations to Florida. She even had to miss a friend’s wedding and a family member’s funeral because they would have required too much walking.
It became clear that the family would need more money to provide the level of care Burlene would soon need.
Burlene’s oldest daughter Sheryl had worked in home health and hospice care for 25 years and understood the financial implications of her mother’s mesothelioma diagnosis. She knew what little could be paid for and understood the family would have to pay out of pocket.
Their mother’s care and treatment would be a financial burden the family was not prepared for. In addition to spending their parents’ life savings, the three children would also have to chip in with their own personal funds.
Even though the family had never before dreamt of calling a lawyer, it was then that they began to consider filing a mesothelioma lawsuit.
Initially, Sherman did not want to speak with a lawyer. According to his children, he was from a generation that just didn’t sue people. He was also concerned about suing his former employer. He loved working there and didn’t want to jeopardize his pension.
However, the Jones children felt strongly about keeping their mother at home and knew that filing an asbestos claim would give them the financial flexibility to do so.
The family started asking around for recommendations on the best mesothelioma lawyers out there. Never having a need before, all they knew about mesothelioma lawyers was what they saw on TV ads, and they were overwhelmed with all of the options. They weren’t sure who they could trust.
The family found Simmons Hanly Conroy through a recommendation from an attorney friend who said they’re the best mesothelioma law firm for handling these kinds of cases. Hearing that from another attorney gave the family more confidence in the hiring process.
“She said Simmons Hanly Conroy in Alton, Illinois — that’s who you need to go with,” Burlene’s daughter Sheryl said. “They’re the largest, they’re the best, but also, they invest their money in research and trying to fight that disease.”
The family was happy to learn that the firm has donated over $20 million to cancer research and mesothelioma support organizations across the country — including over $10 million to The Simmons Cancer Institute, a community-based patient care, research, education and outreach program at Southern Illinois University.
So, the Jones family made a call to Simmons Hanly Conroy. Right away, Burlene was visited at home by Partner Melissa Crowe Schopfer, an experienced asbestos and mesothelioma attorney with the firm.
The family was impressed that Melissa took the time to educate them about how mesothelioma results from asbestos exposure.
Still, it’s tough to know when the exposure occurred. This was especially true in their mother’s case since she appeared to be exposed throughout her life.
“Asbestos lawsuits are often more complex than other types of lawsuits because asbestos diseases do not develop until many years after exposures to asbestos have occurred. This means that we are often looking back in time and trying to pinpoint exposures from more than 20 years ago.”
– Partner Melissa Crowe Schopfer
Having Melissa come to their parents’ home was particularly helpful because Sherman was reluctant to speak with a mesothelioma lawyer.
In their own home, Sherman and Burlene were in their comfort zone and could provide the details of their residential and work history without worry.
Through the firm’s extensive research into the couple’s history, dating all the way back to the early 1950s, their legal team identified multiple asbestos companies that could have been the source of Burlene’s exposure.
The family was worried about putting their parents through a long, drawn-out trial, but the team at Simmons Hanly Conroy assured them that they could make the process as smooth as possible.
Thankfully, the firm was able to obtain significant compensation for the family early in the case. Because Burlene had become very ill by then and needed around-the-clock care, the mesothelioma compensation arrived at the perfect time.
Before that point, family and friends came in to help Sherman care for Burlene, but they were on borrowed time. People need to get back to their own lives, even in the face of a terminal illness.
“I filed the mesothelioma lawsuit because I was not sure what my mother was going to need, and we wanted to make sure that my father had the financial backing to do whatever was going to make my mom’s end of life the most comfortable.”
– Debbie Jones
That first check lengthened the runway to provide up to 35 days of 24-hour care, even allowing for a hospital bed to be put into the couple’s living room. Sadly, Burlene passed away before too long, but her family takes comfort in knowing she didn’t have to go back into the hospital.
Because of how quickly she received her mesothelioma settlement, Burlene was able to pass away at home with her cherished family by her side.
Their compensation also paid for Burlene’s funeral. This meant Sherman and his children could pick out her final arrangements without worrying about what they could afford.
After Burlene passed, Sherman used money from the mesothelioma lawsuit to take his adult children on family vacations and relive old memories together.
Knowing they gave their mother the best mesothelioma care and helped their father cope with losing his wife of 63 years really allowed the Jones family to begin healing.
With over a decade elapsing since their mother passed away, the Jones family can look back at their experience with clarity.
Their advice to others who face a mesothelioma diagnosis:
The Jones family also suggests seeking out all available options. There are mesothelioma resources that many people do not know about since the disease is so rare.
“It’s not like other diseases like heart issues or breast cancer. Even if you don’t personally know somebody that had breast cancer, you know somebody that does. And I’ve never known anyone that had mesothelioma or knew anyone that had mesothelioma, so there was no nobody to talk to.”
– Debbie Jones
Additionally, the family has found community through the annual Miles for Meso road race and walk, which they have participated in since 2012. The event has been a meaningful way to give back to others facing the disease while also honoring their dear mother Burlene.