BOONE COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – Black lung is a disease that is well known to the people of West Virginia who have spent most of their lives in the coal mines.
“I was at West Moreland for 25 years,” said Jerry Greene as he listed off all the mines he worked at during his 43-year career.
The diagnosis, though incurable, comes with a chance to be compensated. That is where Boone Memorial Hospital’s new Black Lung Center comes into play.
“Our job is to do those tests very well so the miner can get those benefits,” says Black Lung Center Director Willie Carte.
The center offers free help to miners who want to file federal black lung paperwork, and in the same facility, they offer all the required testing that goes with it. Since they opened the center in February they have seen nearly 250 black lung patients.
“They’re great people, you know, they got good hearts,” says Carte. “They’ve been hard workers their whole lives, all of them will come in here and say, ‘you know if I don’t have it that’s a blessing, but if I do have it I deserve to be compensated,’ which is what we are here for to help them.”
Officials at the Black Lung Center say most people have a hard time understanding the disease because those who suffer from it look healthy on the outside. They say try to understand that living life with black lung is like living life only being able to breathe through the hole in a straw. Anything you do from washing dishes to walking the dog you can only get your air from the hole in a straw.
“I could do anything. I could weed eat a whole hill. Weed eat then go to work.I can’t even walk up a hill now, never mind weed eat,” says Arthur Gallagher who worked in the mines for 33 years.
The new center is on a mission to help coal miners live the lives they deserve.
“We work hard to help them get back to being able to go out and do things and run around with the grandkids,” says the center’s director.
The Black Lung Center will be hosting community outreach events in the coming months to spread the word to those suffering.