Prominent Milwaukee Economic Development Specialist Dies of Mesothelioma

A longtime veteran of the Department of City Development in Milwaukee, WI, Michael J. Wisniewski cared deeply about his city. He helped to spearhead the development of the RiverWalk project in the late 1980s, was instrumental in bringing a condominium development to the downtown area, and contributed to the renaissance of the area known as Beerline. His work at the many job sites throughout his career, however, may have taken its toll in the form of mesothelioma.

Caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects a membrane called the mesothelium, which surrounds and protects the lungs and other internal organs. It produces a special fluid which helps lubricate these organs during natural movement within the body cavities. Mesothelioma, which may not be diagnosed until up to 40 years after exposure, takes its toll very quickly after it is discovered. Typically, patients live 12 to 18 months after they have been diagnosed.

Although Wisniewski, who was affectionately called Wiz and Wizy by friends and family, may have been exposed to asbestos on any number of job sites during his employment as an economic development specialist, he may also have experienced exposure as a seasonal construction worker while in college. Asbestos was widely used in construction and manufacturing capacities, and it can easily be inhaled because of the dusty particulate that is released during production and use. This particulate invades the mesothelium and cannot be breathed or coughed out. Eventually it causes the cells to possibly become malignant and a tumor to form.

Wisniewski retired in 2006. He was diagnosed the next year with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and underwent a pneumonectomy and chemotherapy in an attempt to stave off the cancer. At the time of his death in July 2009, he was 60 years old.