Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Cancer victim urges ACC overhaul

ACC has advised Aucklander Deanna Trevarthen that because she was not employed in an asbestos-exposed environment her cover for pleural mesothelioma should be withheld. Photo / Supplied
ACC has advised Aucklander Deanna Trevarthen that because she was not employed in an asbestos-exposed environment her cover for pleural mesothelioma should be withheld. Photo / Supplied

A woman diagnosed with asbestos cancer and her partner want an overhaul of ACC legislation as they face $200,000 of life-prolonging non-funded treatment.

ACC has advised Aucklander Deanna Trevarthen that because she was not employed in an asbestos-exposed environment her cover for pleural mesothelioma should be withheld. This is despite expert medical opinion that the 44-year-old was exposed to the deadly fibres as a child when she was a regular visitor to building sites with her electrician father.

Under the current law anyone exposed to asbestos in their employment is automatically covered - but spouses and children who are exposed through that person are not.

"It's sort of gender inequality," Ms Trevarthen's partner Greg Robertson said. "Given that this disease is seen as a 'man disease' because of the work environments, it's mostly males that are protected by ACC but their wives, spouses and, in this case kids, are also exposed."

Ms Trevarthen spent extended periods of time at work with her father from the age of 6. The fibres, inhaled into the lungs, can lie dormant in the body for more than 30 years.

New Zealand mesothelioma specialist Dr Richard Sullivan believed she was exposed around the age of 10 "during regular visits to building sites with her electrician father or during contact with fibres on his hair and clothes on his return home".

In its "Likely decision advice report" to Ms Trevarthen on December 21 last year, ACC said cover would probably be declined.

In his decision to the ACC claims department, the company's lead occupational health adviser John Monigatti said 95 per cent of mesothelioma cases were caused by asbestos. Because Ms Trevarthen worked in a non-asbestos environment as a sales representative, he said she may be among the "small percentage of people in whom mesothelioma arises without apparent cause".

Mr Robertson is furious ACC made its decision without talking to her specialist.

ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville said all aspects would be considered before a final decision was made.

"It hasn't been declined yet, the final cover decision is still pending while we investigate fully," she said.

Mr Robertson believed ACC's "hands were tied" by outdated legislation. He wanted an overhaul of the 2001 policy to keep up with medical advances - including new knowledge that minimal exposure to asbestos can do harm.

Ms Trevarthen is into her third round of Government-funded chemotherapy. She has three more rounds of chemo before she is faced with a $65,000 round of Avastin to prolong her life. The couple are also planning other life-extending treatments that total $200,000 - none of the treatments are funded.

"If Deanna's dad had mesothelioma ACC would have paid out within four days," Mr Robertson said. "But Dee, exposed to the same stuff, gets nothing except $200,000 of medical bills and a battle that currently experts say she can't win."

To help Deanna visit: givealittle.co.nz/cause/deesday

- NZ Herald

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