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The Unsung Heroes – Celebrating Medical Laboratory Professionals Week

In an area unseen to blood donors, lab coat-donned men and women take careful measurements in quick succession. In between the sterile metal countertops holding various scientific instruments, a flurry of workers go back and forth between them.

They’re separating blood components; taking the whole blood generously given by donors and putting each part of it – the platelets, plasma, and red cells – into separate containers. Those containers will then be meticulously measured and tested before being sent to hospitals, where the blood components will be used on people who need them.

“It feels great,” said Aaron Rademaker, Lab Coordinator, “We’re helping patients.”

That sentiment – helping people – is one each lab worker holds with them as they do their work each day. And for some, it goes even further.

“My niece had a heart transplant two years ago and needed blood,” Patti Ross, a Lab Tech worker, said as she separated plasma from red blood cells, “So it brings it home for me.”

In a separate lab, men and women focus on more particular parts of the blood – testing donated white blood cells for potential patient matches, looking for antibodies that could make certain components unusable for patients, and doing DNA testing for bone marrow donors.

Jessica Boyd, a Specialty Lab Tech, largely works with red blood cells. For her, this kind of work is a testament to her mom, who had two kidney transplants.

“That’s why I got into doing this – because of her,” she said.

Another lab just down the hall is accessible only with proper equipment: hair net, gloves, booties, and sterile coats that cover both back and front. It’s where stem cells and cord blood are kept – lifesaving blood for those with nowhere else to turn. It can be a tough job to do – workers say they know the people getting these components may not be long for this Earth – but it’s just as necessary, while also being very cool…literally.

“I love processing the cells. Bringing it in, manipulating it, getting it in the freezer,” said Miranda Byrd, a Specialty Lab Tech. Part of her job involves putting cord blood into, and taking it out of, large multi-gallon freezers. The freezers are cold enough that special gloves must be worn while operating them.

But lab work isn’t all blood components and stem cells. Much of it is record-keeping and so-called ‘grunt work’: cleaning, prepping, and putting things in order. Ian McNeill, a Lab Tech worker, organized cups used for spinning in centrifuges (the machine that separates blood components). He said it’s important because each one is weighed and balanced. It’s work he doesn’t mind doing, because he’s seen how every step can make the difference.

“I volunteered in a hospital once,” he said, “I was in and out of rooms where blood was used. It makes what I do here feel more special.”

Thank you, lab workers, for all you do for us – not just this week, but every week of the year!