They met as carefree American teens singing ’80s hit La Bamba at prestigious Harvard University and their friendship soon turned into romance, which led to them co-authoring best-selling crime books based on real-life cases.
Now writer TJ Mitchell and his forensic pathologist wife Dr Judy Melinek have scripted a perfect ending to their own harrowing story, relocating their family to New Zealand to escape their COVID-ravaged homeland.
The couple feel “so grateful” to be a world away from their former lives in the US, where Judy led the pandemic response for a sheriff-coroner office in the San Francisco Bay Area, but didn’t feel safe or supported at work.
Chatting to Woman’s Day from their new home in Mount Cook – near the Wellington Hospital mortuary, where Judy now performs coronial autopsies – they say their main reason for the move was simply to stay alive.
“We didn’t want to catch this thing and I was afraid of bringing it home,” says 51-yearold Judy, who’s usually the first to be called when people die in strange ways. “I wasn’t afraid of catching it from the dead bodies I cut up because I had PPE on, but I was afraid of catching it from the police officers who refused to wear masks and ignored the risks.”
When she was headhunted by a Kiwi recruitment company last May, her decision to take up the job offer as an essential worker was a no-brainer. “I’d been studying COVID protocols from government responses over the world and said, ‘We need to be doing what Jacinda Ardern’s doing in New Zealand.’ It made an impression on me long before we were contacted by anyone.”
“This country was always on our bucket list to visit, but we figured we’d come later in life when we were empty-nesters,” adds TJ, 52.
‘I wasn’t afraid of catching COVID from the dead bodies’
They gave teen daughters Leah, 17, and Diana, 15, “veto powers”, but after being miserable in lockdown for three months, they loved the idea of moving to the other side of the world to be in an actual school classroom again. The couple’s two eldest children Daniel, 21, and Anna, 20, have stayed behind to continue studying at the University of California.
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