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Lab Techs Enable Treatment for Haitian Patients

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 22, 2010 – Medics don’t just slap patients on operating tables and begin cutting.

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Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Philip Dukette enters lab test results into the USNS Comfort's computer system, Jan. 22, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. DoD photo by Jim Garamone
  

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Patients need tests to determine blood types, allergic reactions and drug sensitivities. They need X-rays and CT scans so doctors can see what damage there might be. Doctors also need to know what germs may be present, and patients need medications and test kits for specific conditions.

All these different orders go to the department of ancillary services aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, deployed here for the Haiti earthquake relief effort. Anclillary services include the lab, the pharmacy, radiology and physical therapy.

The officers and corpsmen who staff the lab are as crucial to patients as anyone aboard the ship, but they are never seen. When they first see patients in casualty receiving, doctors make educated guesses about the diagnosis and order tests to confirm those educated guesses. “We’re the ones who put the science in the diagnosis,” said Navy Lt. (j.g.) Natalie Oakes from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., who runs the Comfort’s laboratory section.

The ship has a full suite of equipment. “We’re capable of providing the same service as we would upon shore,” Oakes said. “Our only limit is supply.” A Military Sealift Command ship arrived here today with supplies for the lab and the rest of the departments aboard the Comfort.

Some of the analyzer machines are down, and the Navy is flying in specialists to fix them. Still, the lab techs have found workarounds for the time being. The major loss is that of the CT scan. The manufacturer is sending a repair technician who should arrive today or tomorrow.

The main tests run are complete blood counts, the basic metabolic panel -- which gives the levels of electrolytes plus glucose -- and a lot of blood bank tests for cross-matching and transfusions, Oates said. The lab also does testing for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, urinalysis and a lot of microbiology. “We can culture different bodily fluids for infections, including blood,” she said.

The lab has 20 lab techs. A regular 250-bed hospital would have more than 50. The Comfort may fill 1,000 beds.

“We’re managing,” Oates said. “Being creative in a situation like this may save a life. We’re just pulling things out as we go along to help these people.”

Everyone has a real sense of mission, Oakes said.

“I miss my family like everyone else here, but I’m here for a mission,” she said. “We’re here to help.”

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Related Sites:
USNS Comfort
USNS Comfort on Twitter
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Capt. Christine Howe, director of ancillary services on the USNS Comfort hospital ship, briefs her staff on what to expect during morning muster, Jan. 22, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Comfort is providing medical relief to victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the island nation. DoD photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA lab technician holds vials of blood for testing aboard the USNS Comfort, Jan. 22, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. DoD photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Bovaird prepares to run a test in the laboratory of the USNS Comfort, Jan. 22, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The hospital ship is in Haiti to provide medical services for thousands hurt in the Jan. 12 earthquake there. DoD photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA lab technician aboard the USNS Comfort holds a Petri dish in which at least two types of bacteria are growing. The lab supports humanitarian relief operations aboard the USNS Comfort, which is in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as part of the relief effort following the Jan. 12 earthquake. DoD photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA lab technician works with specimens on the USNS Comfort hospital ship, Jan. 22, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The ship is in Haiti to provide medical support as part of the Jan. 12 earthquake relief effort. DoD photo by Jim Garamone  
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