The term “soulmates” is often used to describe two people who were seemingly made for each other, a term reserved for the kind of love Hollywood writes about and turns into blockbuster movies. It’s not often you see the unscripted version in real life, but such is the case for SWMW Law client, Eugene “Gene” Tyler, and his wife, Sylvia.
Their story begins in 1962, shortly after Gene returned home from service in the U.S. Army.
“A buddy and I went to a honky-tonk dance hall, and that’s where I first saw her,” he said. “She and a friend of hers invited us to sit at a table with them. It’s true what they say when you meet the love of your life – time really does stop. I fell in love with her instantly.”
For Sylvia, the feeling was mutual. The two began dating immediately, and within six months, they were married.
“She was so beautiful and so intelligent – the entire package,” Gene said. “I didn’t want her to get away. Luckily for me, she felt the same way.”
With their sights set on starting a family as soon as possible, Gene knew he needed a change in career to make more money. A materials handler for several years, he put a plan in motion to become an electrician. He began his apprenticeship in 1963, and as soon as he was finished, he started working in powerhouses and electrical plants.
Gene’s new career allowed the couple to add four children to their family – Jim, Dave, Julie, and Lee. He was living the American dream, not knowing his career path would threaten to take it all away.
A Hidden Danger
Like many men and women working in the trades industry, Gene was never told about a hidden danger that was prevalent in his line of work – asbestos exposure.
“It was prominent everywhere I worked – commercially and residentially,” he said. “We had no idea there was anything wrong with it and would handle it just like we would drywall or something. We weren’t told anything different.”
It wasn’t until he worked on a project well into his career that he realized asbestos posed a threat.
“I remember we started remodeling a bank, and before we could start working in a specific area, men in what looked like moon suits had to go in there first,” he said. “I had no idea what was going on, and when I finally asked, they said they were doing asbestos abatement. It was the first time I realized that the stuff might be dangerous. When the men were done, we were sent in right after to do our job without any protective gear or anything.”
For his entire career, Gene was repeatedly exposed to asbestos in one way or another while on the job. And like many in his shoes, he wouldn’t realize the devastating effects of that exposure until many years later.
Battles to Overcome
Gene retired in 2000, excited to enjoy his “golden years” with the love of his life. But as storybook romances often go, there were challenges on the horizon for both of them. In 2006, Sylvia was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and was admitted to a nursing home 8 years later. While she was in the nursing home, Gene visited her every day.
“She was my sweetheart,” he said. “Seeing her was the highlight of every day.”
During this time, Gene had started to experience a troublesome symptom – “a little shortness of breath.” He went to the hospital and doctors discovered fluid around his lungs. Closer inspection of that fluid after it was removed didn’t reveal anything alarming, so he was released to return home. Over the next several years, Gene’s shortness of breath worsened. In 2016, he visited a pulmonologist with his concerns and was given the news that would jeopardize the beautiful life he’d built with Sylvia.
“They took a biopsy and realized I had mesothelioma,” Gene said. “Scared doesn’t even come close to what I was feeling.”
Gene’s fear worsened when his doctor told him his prognosis.
“I asked him, ‘How many patients have you had with it?’ and he said ‘Several,’” Gene said. “When I asked him how many of those are still alive, he said, ‘None. Except for you.’”
A Promise Made and Kept
Gene’s prognosis may have been grim, but he and his family quickly put a plan in place to give him the best chance of survival. His cancer was contained to the lining of his lungs, and he was to have surgery within a week of diagnosis at the National Institute of Health in Maryland. But before Gene could focus on the fight ahead of him, there was something he had to do first.
“I knew I had to get to Sylvia before I did anything,” he said. “I went to see her in the nursing home and said, ‘Honey, I have to go to this place in Maryland and I’m going to be gone for a while. I’m going to get better and come back to you. I promise.”
Armed with the ironclad will to see Sylvia again, Gene made the trip to Maryland with the support of his family. It took 8.5 hours to remove the lining around his lungs, a surgery doctors said he was lucky to survive. He then spent almost a month enduring a grueling recovery process until he was cleared to return home. True to his word, the first thing he did was visit Sylvia.
“I took her hand and said, ‘Hello, Darlin’. I’m all better now. I told you I’d come back,” he said.
Justice for Gene
When Gene was first diagnosed with mesothelioma, his doctor made an additional recommendation along with his treatment plan – to contact a lawyer.
“The doctor told me I probably didn’t have long left and to find one as soon as I could,” he said. “When we got home, that’s what I did. I called SWMW Law and they were at my kitchen table two days later.”
Knowing his mesothelioma was caused by the negligence of the companies he worked for, SWMW Law attorneys and staff went to work quickly to get justice for Gene and his family.
“I knew from the beginning that they had my back,” Gene said. “I knew they weren’t going to let those companies get away with what they did to me. They treated me like a king throughout the entire process, and to this day, I consider them part of my family.”
The firm was successful in their pursuit of justice and were able to give Gene the financial stability to cover his medical costs, take care of his family, and afford whatever needs he may have in the future.
“I’ll be taken care of for the rest of my life,” Gene said. “I used to worry about where I was going to go, how I was going to take care of it all. Because of SWMW Law, those fears are put to rest.”
Love Conquers All
After Gene’s recovery, he continued to visit Sylvia every day in the nursing home until her death in 2018.
“He continued to care for her every day like he always had,” said daughter-in-law Linde Tyler. “Even after 54 years together, they were as in love as the day they met. The way they looked at each other until her last day – it’s something straight out of a movie. It was love. Real love.”
For Gene, still cancer-free at the age of 85, his final moments together with Sylvia are ones that he continues to hold dear.
“I told her it was OK to go, that I was going to be OK. And then she took her final breath,” he said. “I’m so thankful that I was given the chance to be there with her at the end. I’m lucky to have had 54 years with the love of my life. I wouldn’t be here today without her.”