ALAMEDA — The husband of Terry Leavitt testified on Tuesday saying that he and his two teenage children try to live one day at a time watching his wife decline from mesothelioma. Recounting the experience caused Dean McElroy at times to fight back tears.
“We try to keep it normal, to keep it enthusiastic, but she is hardly what she was before,” McElroy told a jury.
Leavitt is suing Johnson & Johnson claiming the asbestos-tainted baby powder she used for 30 years caused her to develop mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the linings of the lungs. The disease is incurable and fatal, usually within a year of diagnosis.
The trial in the Alameda Superior Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Plaintiff attorney Denyse Clancy asked McElroy, who is a San Francisco attorney, how he met Terry Leavitt.
“I’ve always been bald and this made me very shy,” McElroy said. “I did sports but I was not a ladies’ man. I met Terry though a friend at a party and I was interested in her, but I was told she was in a relationship. When that broke up we got together and hit it off.”
“Terry saved my life of loneliness,” he added. “I got lucky.”
McElroy said he was something of an introvert and his wife the opposite.
“She is really important to me.”
The couple married in 1999.
McElroy described his wife before her illness as a life-of-the-party type and an outgoing individual. During his testimony Clancy displayed for the jury family pictures including a backpack outing to Sequoia National Park.
McElroy said his wife loved taking part with her daughters in volleyball and watching sporting events. She became mostly a full-time housewife supporting her husband’s career although the couple had planned for her to resume working part-time in physical therapy.
“How did you learn of the mesothelioma?” Clancy asked.
McElroy said his wife had been suffering back pain and after receiving back epidural injections, surgery was planned. A pre-operative chest X-ray revealed an abnormal mass at the lung about the size of a baseball.
“They said we don’t know and a biopsy was done,” he said. “They said mesothelioma, and I said you’re kidding me. How does that happen?”
In September of 2017 an operation was performed to remove the malignancy, a five-hour procedure.
“It was fraught with peril and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” McElroy said. “The pathology report came in a couple of weeks.”
Doctors initially informed McElroy that Leavitt had the most optimistically possible of the three different types of mesothelioma, but later revised their opinion.
“The doctor told us it was the bad kind,” McElroy said.
A second doctor’s opinion was sought to no advantage. Radiology and chemotherapy were used.
“This really wracked her,” McElroy said. “She was throwing up and would feel terrible. She is still having effects from the chemo. She is always fatigued.”
Leavitt’s lung function became impaired. The couple visited Lake Tahoe where because of the altitude she had difficulty breathing.
“How is she doing now?” Clancy asked.
“It’s way different,” McElroy said. “She tries to be like her old self, but she spends much of the day in bed. She thinks about not being there for the girls and missing their weddings and it’s very hard on all of us. She thinks what bad news am I going to get next.”
McElroy told how he couldn’t accompany his wife to all her doctor appointments because he had to work.
“That’s what’s killing me,” he said. “We have wonderful friends who take her.”
McElroy said his wife attempts to do house cleaning, but tires easily and has to stop.
“You can’t dwell on what’s happening,” McElroy added. “You appreciate each day for what it is.”
Under cross examination, the attorney for Johnson & Johnson expressed his sorrow to McElroy for what happened and asked him if he could recollect his wife using J&J powder.
“I don’t,” McElroy responded.
“Do you recall bottles of baby powder at your house?”
“I don’t, no,” McElroy answered.
Judge Brad Seligman is presiding over the trial now in its seventh week.