PENNIGNTON GAP, Va. - Thousands of men and women mine coal everyday across the world and sometimes there are complications.
Black lung is a disease those at Stone Mountain Health Services say they're diagnosing more often, and they say their goal is to improve the quality of life.
Two widows of Black lung patients tell us both of their husbands died while they were in their 50s.
Diane Rose says she lost her husband Joey in January. She says his breathing was noticeable. "You didn't need a stethoscope to listen to his lungs," said Rose.
Experts say breathing problems are what most miners will notice first. Dr. Kathleen DePonte says they can become short of breath doing the simplest of tasks. She cited examples: "Eating or talking, they become short of breath because they don't have enough functioning oxygen to be able to breathe," she said.
At Stone Mountain Health Services, work to improve the quality of a patient's life starts the moment they're diagnosed.
Dr. Esther Ajjarapu is on the the front lines of helping miners with the disease. While most are on a long list of medicines, she says there are other ways to help. "Pulmonary rehab. That helps with exercise to keep their breathing muscles [working]," she explained.
There is not treatment for the disease, but doctors can stop progression with medicine and exercise.
However, sometimes it's more than just physical. Dr. Forest Racham says he often sees depression and anxiety associated with the disease. "They have life roles and life positions they're no longer in," he said.
Racham when on to say that sometimes those roles they can no longer fill are so important, they end up taking their own lives. "That's instilled in their minds that if they can't take care of themselves there's no point of living," he told us.
Work to prevent Black lung is also underway. Alpha Natural Resources says they provide annual physicals for their miners that includes free X-rays. They also say they have personal dust monitoring programs to make sure their workers are not over-exposed.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration is also working on dust standards.
Those at Stone Mountain Health Services say there are breathing apparatuses provided to miners to wear while working, but most complained that they were uncomfortable and impaired their vision.
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