Name: Krisann Howell, MLT (ASCP)
Title: General Supervisor of Laboratory Operations
Employer: The Center for Hematology-Oncology, The Lynn Cancer Institute, Boca Raton, FL

We’re a moderate complexity laboratory, with one specialty:  Hematology.   We serve about 13 physicians, and have an annual testing volume of about 50,000 tests.  You may not think that a smaller lab like ours with only one specialty really “matters,” but I have always thought that the lab plays a very important role in the health of our patients.

We treat patients with diseases like Lymphoma, Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma and Sickle Cell Anemia.  When you think about it, the whole life of a cancer patient is wrapped up into the CBC (complete blood count) result that we are constantly testing prior to administering chemotherapy treatment.  If their WBC (white blood cell) count is too low, it can mean a delay in treatment, or hospitalization; at the very least, it can cause them to change their social plans temporarily.  And if their hemoglobin and platelets are too low, they are game changers, too; once again, treatment stops, and, now, blood transfusions are required.

When I first started as a technician, I worked in a hospital, as many of us do.  I never really had much patient contact.  Since working in this cancer center, I’ve been amazed at how much the patients become involved with their lab results. They come to know what WBC and absolute neutrophil counts are, and what they need to be. They understand that their hemoglobin needs to stay above 8.0 g, and if it drops below that number, everything will change for them:  Treatment stops, transfusion begins, and they must start all over again.

You get to know people who come in regularly for treatment; some can be here for months, even years.  They kid with you when you draw their blood, saying things like “Make sure you give me good numbers.”  They want to know if they are going to be able to get on with their plans, like attending their grandchild’s recital later that evening.  And they ask lots of questions.  They don’t understand, for example, how some lab results can be delivered almost instantly, while others take more time.  We recently got a new blood analyzer, and some of them asked whether it was a good brand of equipment!  But all of these things are important to them:  They come in to have their blood drawn, hoping for a good result, so they can get on with their chemo treatments.  Those lab results determine what is next for them, as they fight to win their battle against cancer.