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WBAMC histology techs: Care beyond the surface

Mayra Cadenas, Histology technician, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, prepares a stomach biopsy for diagnosis as part of the histology grossing process, which includes visually examining tissue for any abnormalities or concerns to submit for processing and staining resulting in a microscopic sample thinner than a sheet of paper, during normal operations at WBAMC’s histology laboratory, Feb. 22. . In celebration of the profession, March 10 of each year is designated as Histotechnology Professionals Day when histology technicians and their peers are recognized.

Story by Marcy Sanchez

William Beaumont Army Medical Center Public Affairs Office

Tucked away at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, behind ranks of microscopes and tissue-filled containers are less than half a dozen specialists obligated to your body’s discourse.

Not literally through language, but through the study and detection of tissue abnormalities, these scientists inspect and prepare tissue for further diagnosis to determine whether a patient has cancer or another condition. In celebration of the unheeded efforts of these individuals, March 10 of each year is designated as Histotechnology Professionals Day when histology technicians and their peers are recognized.

“We look to make sure that (specimens) are normal and if we notice something abnormal we try to take a section off that piece of tissue so (pathologists) can look at it under the microscope to see if they can diagnose,” said Mayra Cadenas, Histology technician, WBAMC. “It can be any variety of things: cancer, fungus or just normal pathology or infections. It just depends what (organ) it is.”

Grossing, processing and staining are common phrases for these professionals as they transform tissues to samples thinner than a sheet of paper for diagnosing.

“I love what I do,” said Cadenas, an El Paso, Texas native. “I think it’s incredibly interesting, we see all sorts of different things and history. Even what we do in microtomy (the process of creating samples the width of a red blood cell), it takes technique, it takes skill and its rewarding being able to help the doctors. You have to be able to cut it thin enough to not cut the tissue but thin enough to help the doctors diagnose the issue.”

With only 10 locations in the Army for active-duty Soldiers specializing in the field to practice, the profession is rare among Soldiers, with many positions at Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) being filled by Army civilians.

According to Sgt. Christopher Del Rio, a medical laboratory specialist and cytotechnologist who is certified to practice histotechnology, only a handful of Soldiers in Army Medicine are certified to practice the profession, with Del Rio currently being the only Soldier at WBAMC capable to perform those duties.

“(The profession) is becoming a rarity as time continues because a lot of places aren’t seeing the workload from personnel that they need to,” said Del Rio, a native of Orlando. “I feel we contribute largely to patient care, especially in terms of diagnosis of cancer or premalignant conditions or even infectious diseases.”

Currently, WBAMC’s histology technicians go beyond processing samples from the West Texas and Southern New Mexico regions. The staff is also tasked with processing samples obtained from Army facilities in Arizona and California, providing enough workload to keep these individuals engaged.

“Histology has always been here, at least in the bigger hospitals,” said Del Rio, one of the only enlisted Soldiers who performs the duty at WBAMC. “It’s a very important aspect of patient care process.”

Tissue as small as polyp or mole biopsies to amputations, received from any clinic and the operating room, are processed by these technicians to help doctors determine any ailments.

“Any part of the body that you can remove we will most likely get it,” said Cadenas, a Navy veteran who has 15 years of experience in histology. “We’ll find a reason why (a patient is) at the hospital even if we find that there’s nothing wrong. They’re not physically here, but we’re still taking care of them because that’s their specimen, it’s a part of the patient.”

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