With a 25-pound liver, Janine Anderson was told she isn't too sick
By Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Javier Manzano © The Rocky
MARYVILLE, Tenn. — Janine Anderson spent seven years as a secretary at the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation, one of the nation's premier nuclear weapons development and production complexes.
But that safe-sounding office position didn't protect her from the toxic exposure that has ravaged her body. Her lungs are scarred with deadly beryllium, a key ingredient in atomic bombs. Her immune system is attacking her body, which harbors an array of heavy metals in toxic quantities. Her liver is so enlarged that it is threatening to burst through her abdominal wall.
She states matter-of-factly that her prognosis is grim.
"Eventually my liver will crowd out my heart, my lungs, everything," she said. "I don't know how much longer I have." She is finding it harder to eat and to breathe.
Anderson helped found the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups. So far, she has personally helped fellow workers receive more than $2.5 million in compensation from a federal program to aid sick weapons workers.
Many are former co-workers from her administration building. Anderson lists them by disease: brain tumor, leukemia, asbestosis, breast cancer and lung cancer.
"Every single person I worked with except my boss got sick," she said.
But for seven years, the government repeatedly denied most of Anderson's own claim, citing her advocacy work on behalf of others as evidence that she must not be too sick.
Anderson is among several advocates interviewed by the Rocky Mountain News whose claims for compensation have been derailed by the government. The advocates believe that their problems are related to their criticism of the troubled program.
Anderson wonders how and why the program case managers sought out information about her advocacy work, while they failed for so long to take note of the evidence that eventually proved her claim.
In the last few months, the U.S. Labor Department suddenly began approving parts of her claim — a total of 32 medical conditions that they say she suffers because of her job at the bomb factory. They have not explained why those same conditions had been repeatedly rejected for compensation in previous years.
But program officials may have waited too late for Anderson. Her physicians have told her that her liver now weighs more than 25 pounds — a healthy human liver weighs about three pounds.
A series of experts have told her that this condition is inoperable.
Anderson's finances are in a shambles. She and her husband, Richard, have refinanced their home three times in an attempt to meet staggering medical bills.
She worries about how the end will come and what will happen to her husband.
"I'm just trying to get realistic, so it's not such a shock when they tell me they can't do anything," she said. "I want to know if I only have six months or a year to live."