Kristin Lamprecht remembers her dad, Rudy, as an avid bike rider and serious family man. “He was a wonderful dad, and was well loved by all the neighborhood kids when we were growing up,” she recalled.
Rudy was born in Germany, and used his experience in racing bikes to leave the country. He rode his bike from his hometown in east Germany to Berlin in order to come to the United States in the late 1950s. Soon after, Rudy joined the U.S. Army and found himself stationed back in Germany. While stationed in his home country, he met his future wife, Ursula.
After proposing in 1959, the two made their way back to the U.S. and settled in Brooklyn. Upon visiting a friend in Minnesota, Rudy and Ursula decided to leave the Big Apple and move there to start a family. Rudy worked as a commercial electrician and lived a normal life with his wife and three children.
It wasn’t until he was 79 that the family learned he had mesothelioma.
Exposed to Asbestos at Work
Asbestos is a natural mineral mined for centuries because of its durability and fire resistance. Because it was widely available and inexpensive, its use quickly expanded to more and more products. Until the late 1970s when it became more regulated, asbestos was heavily used.
Asbestos became especially popular for different products in construction. The mineral could be found in everything from drywall, roof shingles, caulk and cement. Asbestos was also used in automotive parts and various consumer products, like ironing board covers, and became almost unavoidable.
Rudy was a commercial electrician for 40 years and certainly faced the potential for asbestos exposure on his various worksites. Electricians are considered among the higher risk occupations for exposure because many of their job duties entail cutting and drilling into wallboard that could contain asbestos. In performing their various work duties, electricians often risked creating a dangerous asbestos dust.
Electricians also worked directly with many products that likely contained asbestos. They’d often use insulation film or paper made with the mineral to prevent people from getting shocked by exposed wires. The electrical wiring insulation and ducts also often contained asbestos because of its heat resistance.
With so many people even today unaware of the dangers of asbestos, many electricians likely didn’t even consider such a risk as they carried out their work. Without the appropriate protective gear, they faced a high likelihood of exposure. As Rudy was in the profession for 40 years, he likely faced prolonged exposure that increased his risk of developing mesothelioma.
It’s certainly possible Kristin’s dad could have been exposed to asbestos during his time in the military, as well. Asbestos was widely used through all the military branches. In the army, veterans faced exposure in the various buildings including their barracks, as well as from the military vehicles. Unfortunately, nearly one-third of all mesothelioma diagnoses occur among veterans.
Diagnosed With Mesothelioma
“He was very reserved about his diagnosis and treatment, he was always like that growing up,” Kristin recently told the MAA Center. “I have a feeling he was trying to protect my brother and I in some way.”
When her dad was first diagnosed with mesothelioma in February, Kristin took the news especially hard. Though she didn’t know much about mesothelioma other than commercials she’d seen on TV, Kristin’s medical background as a retail pharmacist hinted at the severity of the diagnosis.
Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer. After exposure to asbestos, it can take anywhere from 20-50 years for symptoms to start to appear. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and fever. Because the symptoms can also be attributed to common illnesses, like the flu, many patients wait months before receiving the proper diagnosis.
The long latency period and nonspecific symptoms contribute to diagnosis often coming for patients when it already has advanced to a later stage. This can greatly limit the treatment options available for patients.
“My mom was his advocate and went to all his appointments and chemo treatments, “ Kristin said. “She was hoping that he would beat the cancer or meso as she called it.”
Typically, most patients receive a very short life expectancy of just 12-21 months. Sadly, Rudy lost his battle on Thanksgiving day, just nine months after his diagnosis. Because the disease is so aggressive, unfortunately only about 30% of patients live one year after diagnosis.
Asbestos is still not banned in the United States. The toxin remains in many schools, buildings, and older homes and a small amount can still be used in certain new products. With the passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act last June, the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to investigate asbestos and nine other toxins to determine their risk and the potential need for a ban. While this is a positive step in the right direction, the EPA is on shaky ground with the new administration and it’s unclear what the future holds.
Kristin is still processing her grief for her father, but hopes in more time she can get involved in the fight to ban asbestos. She wants to see the toxin fully banned and removed from the buildings it still lingers in to prevent others from exposure and the deadly diseases asbestos can cause.
“Asbestos exposure is preventable,” Kristin insisted. “Mesothelioma is preventable, but unfortunately not curable.”