Name: Greg Clark, PhD
Title: Vice President, National Esoteric Reference Laboratory Services
Employer: Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories, Spokane, WA
I studied Chemistry in college and graduate school, and when faced with the choice of pursuing a clinical lab track versus industrial applications, I chose labs because I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I boarded in Clinical Chemistry, and have been managing labs since 1991. I’ve always been passionate about what I do, but after an incident in 2004, this commitment became deeply personal.
At the time, I was working for a major reference laboratory in Los Angeles, CA. As employees, we were offered free wellness testing. I didn’t think I needed to do it, but a colleague encouraged me. When I received the results, my blood tests showed I was definitely anemic. But since I was otherwise fit, and worked out a lot, I didn’t think much about it.
Around that same time, I also donated blood, where once again, I tested low in hemoglobin levels. I was then re-tested and considered healthy enough to donate a unit. Now I had two tests that suggested something was amiss, but again, I didn’t act on the results.
A short time later, I experienced a respiratory problem, and went to urgent care. I was eventually sent home, after they examined me and assured me I didn’t have pneumonia.
Two months after that initial wellness exam, I happened to discover a lump near my left clavicle. My doctor immediately sent me for a CT scan, which included a contrast dye. Later that evening, he called to tell me that I had “lit up like a Christmas tree” on the scan, which was suggestive of lymphoma disease. He immediately sent me for a biopsy and, once again, laboratory testing provided an answer: I had mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma disease.
My doctors recommended a course of chemotherapy and radiation. But first, I underwent more lab testing to determine my sensitivity to certain types of chemotherapy. Once that was established, I began chemo treatments twice a month for six months; each time I had a blood test first to make sure my white blood cell count was sufficiently high to receive treatment. Again, the lab came to my rescue: at one point, the results of my CBC (Complete Blood Count) test revealed that my white blood cell count was too low, and I was prescribed a drug to build up my white blood cells.
And still later, after I had completed my radiation treatments, a lab tested picked up that I had hypothyroidism, for which again I was prescribed treatment.
Thankfully, all my treatments were successful, and I have been clear of disease for 10 years. I continued to work with several clinical laboratories, and now work for a national reference laboratory headquartered in Spokane, Washington that is ranked among the top in the nation. I still love what I do, but it’s not as much of an intellectual pursuit anymore, because I often think back to how lab tests literally saved my life – from my first wellness test, and the diagnostic pathology testing that confirmed my lymphoma type, to the chemo sensitivity testing, CBC test, and the hypothyroid diagnosis.
The reality is that lab testing contributes to about 70 percent of all diagnostic decisions. While many of us in the lab profession labor behind the scenes, with our work largely unseen, I can personally attest to its importance.