Monday, September 28, 2009

Husband and Wife Courage

I just wrote about Tandra Chaudhuri, who valiantly fought sexual harassment and breast cancer to look for a cure to breast cancer. Now I want to talk about her brave husband Kurt.

Kurt was a red-headed, freckled Caucasian originally trained as a veterinarian. From what I recall he came from a long line of Missouri veterinarians. Kurt didn't stop his education there, though. He, too, became a biologist, perhaps a biochemist. I don't really remember. I don't remember how he and Tandra met, but I do remember how devoted the two were to each other.

Kurt was called a "whistle-blower" because he worked at the research reactor and had a healthy respect for nuclear energy. Kurt and Tandra took me to the reactor and showed me its core, which was quite impressive. Among the services provided at the reactor were things such as irradiate healing materials for cancer hospitals. They even irradiated clear topaz to turn it blue. When you went into the building, a visitor had to don certain items and walk repeatedly through geiger detectors. Nuclear radiation is a pretty powerful energy source, and, when something is messed up, there can be dire consequences.

Kurt was a scientist, and he monitored the administrative things happening at the reactor. Soon he noticed there were lax controls and shipping quantities of radioactive isotopes were sometimes mis-marked. This could be very dangerous. Kurt complained loudly, and was viewed a nothing more than a trouble maker. Kurt never backed down, no matter what the personal consequences. He was due for a promotion, but it was denied. He was ridiculed and treated with disrespect. In the meantime, Kurt's wife was being hit on by the director.

Another less committed scientist might let the shipping errors slide, but not Kurt. Before obtaining a lawyer, he researched the Energy Reorganization Act, and he learned that he had a short period of time to complain to the Department of Labor. He did and then they contacted me.

It is my understanding that most investigations end in a decision that a violation did not occur or that it was inconclusive. We did not have the option of a jury trial, but had to try the case to am adminstrative law judge from D.C. who held Court in the Boone County Courthouse. We had little time to conduct discovery. In one deposition, Kurt wrote out a question for me to ask about radioactive isotopes. I dutifully, yet ignorantly, read the question. I was surprised when the response was, "Could you explain that question." Of course, I couldn't and we laughed and laughed.

We conducted that hearing for a solid week, with few breaks. One of the hard parts of this hearing was waiting for the decision. Tandra and Kurt continued worked with many people who wished them at least to be gone and at most something far worse. After a few months, we received a lengthy judgment, ALL IN KURT'S FAVOR!! There were shipping violations that must be corrected and Kurt was entitled to his promotion.

Kurt was elated. He is such a kind, diligent man. He had done what he needed to do to make that place safer and he wanted to continue his research with his wife. By nature, I am sure that many describe Kurt as a very serious young man, with little sense of humor. I don't think that is accurate. Kurt loved to laugh, but he was passionate about both his work and his wife and took a no-nonsense approach to both of his loves. He was relieved to move to another university where he and Tandra could research in peace. I also spoke with Kurt every couple of years and he kept me up to date with their lives and always asked about my family, and especially about my daughter Lisa. I thought of them as friends and was devastated when Kurt called to say Tandra had passed on. I hope Kurt reads this and that he is doing well and still making our lives safer through his research. I hope he has found happiness. I miss Kurt and Tandra a lot.

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