Respected surgeon died of asbestos-related cancer

It is unknown how a pioneering surgeon who carried out the first hip replacement in Ireland was exposed to asbestos during his lifetime, an inquest into his death has heard.

Joseph Gallagher, originally from Westport in Co Mayo, was the orthopaedic surgeon who started the A&E department at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. He died at St Vincent’s on March 19th aged 93.

An inquest into his death at Dublin Coroner’s Court heard the cause of death was peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer of the stomach related to asbestos exposure.

However, family members said Mr Gallagher had no idea where he may have been exposed to the substance.

An avid golfer and rugby fan, the much-respected surgeon had undergone hip replacement surgery shortly before his death in order to return to his beloved golf, the inquest heard.

Mr Gallagher, a father of four, began to feel unwell towards the end of 2017 and was diagnosed with inoperable mesothelioma in January 2018. There was widespread evidence of a tumour within the abdominal cavity and a biopsy revealed it was a form of cancer linked to asbestos known as mesothelioma.

He later suffered a fall due to problems with his new hip and was re-admitted to hospital on March 13th.Deteriorated

Despite antibiotics and morphine his condition deteriorated and he died peacefully on March 19th.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane asked the surgeon’s son, who was present for the inquest, how he might have been exposed to asbestos during his lifetime.

“Mesothelioma is almost exclusively related to previous asbestos exposure,” Dr Cullinane said.

Family members told the coroner Mr Gallagher had spoken about this but had no idea where he might have been exposed to it. He worked in the UK, in Coventry, Leicester and London during the 1950s when he was aged in his 30s. The bulk of his work throughout his lengthy career was hospital based.

Most mesothelioma cases involve breathing asbestos fibres into the lung but in Mr Gallagher’s case the fibres had entered the stomach. Only 20 per cent of mesothelioma cases occur in the abdominal cavity, the inquest heard.

“The interval between exposure and the development of cancer is anything between 20 and 50 years,” Dr Cullinane said.

The cause of death was aspiration pneumonia as a consequence of advanced peritoneal mesothelioma.

The coroner said it was not known if Mr Gallagher was exposed to the substance through his work and, as such, a verdict of death due to an occupationally acquired disease was not suitable.

She returned a narrative verdict setting out the circumstances of the surgeon’s death and extended her condolences to the Gallagher family.

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