Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)
Former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons builder Douglas DelForge died Sunday of disfiguring brain tumors — six years after applying for federal aid, 14 months after being approved — but before being paid for his lost wages.
Under rules for atom bomb makers sickened on the job, the government's delay in paying DelForge, 46, until after his death means the government will never cut that check.
His parents are not eligible for survivor payments. His wife had long since divorced him, unable to handle his illness.
The Department of Labor did pay another significant part of DelForge's compensation, for permanent disability. That check arrived six days before he died.
Born April 10, 1961, DelForge started at Rocky Flats at 20, and stayed 21 years. He worked on radioactive materials through glove boxes, and later on decontamination.
He underwent his first surgery for brain tumors at 31 but continued to work at the plant.
His father, Cliff, who worked at Rocky Flats as a radiation monitor for 35 years, suggested to his son that he work there, too.
"In retrospect, I couldn't be sorrier," the father said.
Doug DelForge loved playing golf. Once, when a distracting comment by his father led to a disastrous score of 17 on one hole, DelForge followed up by hitting 4 pars and a birdie on the remaining five holes.
When Doug came down with aggressive meningioma, the brain tumors displaced parts of his brain. He was denied aid because they were not considered cancer.
His face twisted and one eyelid fell shut. "His face was animated on one side, and not on the other," explained his mother, Sharon. He could smile, but only on one side of his face.
Double vision distorted his golf game, and then balance problems robbed him of his swing, his father said.
DelForge continued to work at Rocky Flats until he finally became too disabled in 2003, after his brain swelled and blood clots appeared in his lungs.
"He was a kind man, and a quiet fighter," remembered colleague Jennifer Thompson, a leader in the fight for federal aid for sick Rocky Flats workers. "He never gave up, and remained positive, warm and caring" despite his struggle, she said.
Cliff DelForge said the government repeatedly refused his son's application for aid for five years, saying his illness was not caused by his job.
"This panel of doctors said there is no evidence radiation has anything to do with meningioma," Cliff DelForge said. The father finally went on the Internet himself. "It took me less than 30 minutes to find a site that said it was caused by radiation."
He and his wife are not happy that government officials could not manage to pay for their son's lost wages.
"They drag their feet and drag their feet until people die, and they don't have to pay them," Cliff DelForge said.
Shelby Hallmark, head of the Department of Labor aid program, said his Denver office did make a deliberate decision in October to defer payment of DelForge's lost wages. But Hallmark could not immediately determine why.
But he said the law states that only a living worker can be paid for lost wages. Delay in payment until after the worker dies means no payment at all, he confirmed.
"That's very clear, and in this case, sad," Hallmark said.
In December Doug's doctor said another tumor had grown to the size of a golf ball. It was impinging on Doug's brain stem — and the doctor didn't know whether to recommend surgery, or not.
On the way out of the doctor's office in the elevator, Doug, who never complained, who never blamed anyone, let out a deep sigh, his father said.
That's the only time his father can remember his son expressing an emotion about his situation.
After the surgery, Doug went downhill. He was sent home to his parents, who tried to feed him through a tube into his stomach. Thick liquids clogged in the tube. Diluting the liquid food doubled its volume, and that was too much.
"We were doing all this stuff we had not a clue about," said his mother.
Fluids backed up Doug's esophagus into his lungs, and he could not breathe.
Back in the hospital, this occurred several times, until Doug's brain died on Sunday.
Doug had always wanted to leave his organs to help someone else. "Somebody got his liver and his eyes," his mother said proudly.
DelForge is survived by his parents, Cliff and Sharon DelForge of Northglenn, and his sister, Terri Shaver of St. George, Utah.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at the Northwest Church of Christ, 5255 West 98th Ave, Westminster, followed by a reception at the Blue Parrot Restaurant, 640 Main Street, Louisville. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations in his name be sent to organ donor association, The Donor Alliance Inc., 720 S. Colorado Blvd., Suite 800N, Denver, Co. 80246-9987.