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Long-Term Mesothelioma Patient and Caregiver Couple Honored as 'Volunteer of the Year'

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., March 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- One of the longest-term survivors of the vicious asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, and his wife were honored today by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation with the Foundation's annual Volunteer of the Year Award.

In July of 1998, in St. Charles, Missouri, then-42 year-old Craig Kozicki walked into his doctor's office with concern over a few digestive symptoms. Nine days later, he walked out of the doctor's office, having been told to get his affairs in order because he had only a few months left to live.

But instead of going home and preparing to die, Craig - with his wife Shelly - found their way to one of the few cancer centers at the time attempting to treat the disease. Over the next eleven years, Craig pushed the boundaries of mesothelioma treatment through experimental surgeries, chemotherapy cocktails and radiation. Contrary to the hopeless prognosis he was given, he was able to continue working, be a life partner to Shelly, and see his daughter grow up. Last December, Craig walked Emily - who was just 12 when he was diagnosed and is now 23, down the aisle.

Craig and Shelly also became pioneering advocates for other mesothelioma patients. They joined the Meso Foundation and used Craig's story as a long term survivor effectively treated by multi-modal therapy to inspire countless other patients to keep hope and pursue the latest treatments. One of these patients is Mary Jane Williams of Springfield, Ohio. After she was diagnosed in 2004 and told - just like Craig - to get her affairs in order because there was nothing that could be done, she found the Meso Foundation and then Craig. His refusal to take "no" for an answer gave Mary Jane the hope she needed to get through her protocols. She speaks for many when she says, "If it were not for Craig, I would not be alive today."

While Craig was fighting his battle through existing, albeit experimental, medical treatments, Shelly devoted herself to the desperate need for research funding to develop new, more effective treatments. She began to knock on her legislators' doors, urging the federal government to meet its responsibility toward the tragedy of asbestos cancer and partner in the effort to cure it.

But Shelly is not just waiting around for the government to act. She has become the Meso Foundation's most effective volunteer fundraiser. The first $100,000 she raised has in fact funded a federal government researcher, Dr. Mitchell Ho at the National Cancer Institute, NIH. Through the 2007 "Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation Grant in Honor of Craig Kozicki" Dr. Ho is developing special antibodies to block a recently discovered protein that plays a central role in mesothelioma. He has already published exciting early results, and so Craig's name is now permanently included in the annals of medical literature in connection with this important step forward. Shelly is already planning to raise another $100,000 to fund a second grant.

"Craig and Shelly have been a beacon of hope, and of direct action," says the Meso Foundation Executive Director, Chris Hahn. "They have inspired countless patients and caregivers. They have inspired me personally and all of the Meso Foundation staff and volunteers as we work every day to find a cure for this cruel disease."

In accordance with tradition, the Meso Foundation was planning to announce the award at this year's International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, at the end of June in Washington, D.C. But it appears that Craig is nearing the end of his long battle. Says Hahn, "For the past 11 years, Craig and Shelly have taken advantage of every possible advance in treatment to keep the tumor at bay. But the pace of Craig's disease appears to have outrun the pace of the life-saving research, and Craig is out of treatment options. We are heart-broken, and we wanted to let Craig and Shelly know now how much they are loved and appreciated by the entire mesothelioma community."

    CONTACT: Chris Hahn

SOURCE Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
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