I guess it goes with what seems our theme this month about reflecting and remembering because I found myself thinking about some of the memorable folks I’ve helped over these many years. I’ve been fortunate to represent hard-working immigrants from Asia, Mexico, the Middle East, and even That State Up North who saw opportunity in America to build a better life for themselves and their families.
One guy who still makes me smile every time I think of him is Guiseppe, whom everyone called “Joe”. Joe was born and raised in Italy. He dropped out of school there when he was 15 or 16 and immigrated to the U.S.A at age 20. He worked as a plumber in Italy and as a baker for nearly 25 years in the states. He seriously had the physique of one of the Mario brothers (also plumbers, by the way), short and round. He would always call me “Jam-ess”.
In Columbus, he worked with extended family at Auddino’s Italian Bakery, one of the finest in town. They make fantastic cannoli, biscotti, donuts, breads, pizza dough… as they say, carbohydrates are good for the soul!! Joe and his family would often bring huge platters of baked goods to my office just to help me maintain my fabulous figure (hey, it takes a lot of work to look like me!).
Over the years, he developed “Baker’s asthma”, surprisingly one of the most common types of occupational asthma. It’s caused mainly by inhaling cereal flour, particularly wheat flour, and other allergens present in bakeries (eggs or egg powder, sesame/sesame seeds, yeast, and nuts). His condition had progressed so much before he filed his claim, primarily to obtain medical care, that he’d already been hospitalized three times and regularly needed oxygen treatments.
Within a couple of years of filing his claim, Joe’s pulmonologist declared he was permanently and totally disabled from working as a baker. Testing showed Joe could walk only about 50 feet before stopping to catch his breath. He could work no more than an hour or two per day. A desk job was out of the question because of the language barrier (Joe spoke only broken English). He couldn’t even handle a lengthy plane ride to see relatives in Italy.
Joe had continued to push himself to continue working even though the work environment was ruining his health. His breathing capacity was measured at 19% of normal soon after he came to us but he didn’t want to let his family down.
With his serious physical limitations, lack of a high school education and language barrier, we helped Joe obtain permanent total disability benefits. Afterward, his family brought in another huge platter of baked goods to say “thank you”.
This entertaining, rotund little plumber/baker died a couple years ago but the family bakery lives on. I can still hear his “Jam-ess, have you heard from worker compensation?” in my mind as I write this… and I still smile.