'Lab Week' highlights technician's critical role

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dana Rollins
  • 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron
"I need two units of O Negative blood STAT!"

"I need the results of that pregnancy test."

Do those statements sound familiar? If so, maybe it's because you've heard similar remarks, or words such as DNA, lab results, drug screens or tissue analysis while watching your favorite crime show. You may be surprised to learn that all are associated with the work performed in the 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron's Clinical Laboratory and Pathology Flight, better known as "the lab."

Laboratory technicians are so special that an entire week is devoted to us! April 21-25 has been designated "Medical Laboratory Professionals Week." This annual celebration highlights and recognizes our lab professionals in the critical role of disease diagnosis and prevention.

When you hear "lab," you may think that all we do is take your blood. However, we do so much more than that! In fact, the majority of our time is spent testing patient samples such as blood, urine, throat cultures, knee and other body fluids. This testing is performed in various departments within the laboratory.

Your first stop in the lab is Central Operations. Since this is where blood is drawn, it is the only place most patients see. Central Operations is also responsible for shipping blood and other body fluids to other labs for more extensive testing that is not performed at Keesler. This is why you may have to wait weeks for your results. After the samples are collected, they are processed and sent to other lab sections for testing.

Core Lab is one of them. It is the largest lab department and contains chemistry, hematology, coagulation and urinalysis. Lab technicians here perform tests including glucose, cholesterol, electrolytes, pregnancy tests, PT/INR (Coumadin checks) and CBCs (complete blood counts). We can tell if you're anemic or dehydrated. We'll also learn if you have diabetes or if you have a urinary tract infection (UTI). Testing is also performed to help aid in the diagnosis of cancer.

The Microbiology Section identifies bacteria, viruses, fungus and parasites. Throat, wound, urine, blood and stool cultures are processed here. Once the bacteria have been identified, testing can be performed to determine which antibiotics can be used to treat the infection. The microbiology staff also can test for flu.

The Transfusion Services Department , or blood bank, provides patients with much needed blood products in an emergency or during surgeries. We can identify antibodies and other clinical conditions that could cause harm to the patient when receiving blood products. Lab techs test donor units (blood that is donated at the Keesler Blood Donor Center or the American Red Cross) along with patient samples to determine if the two are compatible. Incompatible units can cause a multitude of complications such as transfusion reactions or even death.

The Keesler Blood Donor Center is one of only three Air Force blood donation centers in the Air Force?. Once units are collected, they are processed and separated into different components that can be used in lifesaving treatments and emergencies. Our donor center provides blood products to the Armed Services Blood Program and those products are used to support overseas contingencies. Those of you who have donated with us have helped save lives in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our last section is Pathology. We have special doctors who diagnose diseases, such as leukemia and melanoma, by studying tissue under a microscope. They work closely with other doctors to help them determine what's wrong with their patients. For example, if a doctor is worried about a mole on a patient's back, he or she will remove it and send it to the lab. An histology technician processes the tissue and provide it to the pathologist who will determine whether the mole is cancerous. Pathologists and histology technicians also perform autopsies to determine cause of death.

The Keesler Laboratory also is a training site for Phase II students. Our technical training is intense. After spending 16 weeks at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, students go to a site such as Keesler Medical Center and spend another 36 weeks performing on-the-job training.

As you can see, the Clinical Laboratory is vitally important and there's more to us than just taking blood. Even though our patients see only a few lab techs, there are many more working behind the scenes ensuring that our patients receive excellent medical care.

Lab tours are available at 1 p.m. April 21 and 23. To be included, please contact either Senior Airman Christi Vieira at 376-4474 or Christi.vieira@us.af.mil or Staff Sgt. Gilbert Harkins at 376-4449 or gilbert.harkins@us.af.mil .