There’s no way around it: 2020 has been a hard year. But despite what this year has brought, we are humbled and grateful to think about all the members of our UPMC team and the work they’ve done to save lives.

Today we pause to share the stories of some of the Hidden Heroes of 2020: UPMC’s laboratory technicians. These workers often remain unseen and unthanked—performing and processing tests related to everything from cancer to COVID to genetic counseling to routine care in places that patients and the public will never see. Their behind-the-scenes work is part of a critical chain of care in treating patients and keeping our communities healthy.

Today, we want to shine a spotlight on two lab technicians at UPMC: Kathy G., MT ASCP (Manager of Microbiology and Virology Consolidated Services),and Darla L. (Manager of Laboratory Services, UPMC Shadyside). To all the Hidden Heroes of UPMC working behind-the-scenes, we mean it when we say: we really couldn’t do it without you.

What do you wish people knew about what it means to work in a lab in the age of COVID-19?

KATHY: In February of 2020 there were no vendors available with a ready-to-use test for SarsCov2. In order to provide diagnostic testing for this disease, an assay had to be developed and validated within our laboratory using guidelines provided by the CDC. With oversight from our Medical Directors, this was done in 3 weeks allowing us to offer the first SarsCoV2 test the third week of February. Since that initial test was validated to present day, we have performed more than 80,000 SarsCov2 tests using 5 different platforms, written 5 procedures, trained approximately 50 technologist and technicians, validated 3 specimen transport media on 3 different platforms, validated 3D print swabs for specimen collection, provided excess samples to 3 separate research studies, and provided specimen testing for convalescent plasma study. All this was done in addition to providing more than 550,000 patient results outside of SarsCoV2. The needs of our other patients didn’t just stop because there was a pandemic.

DARLA: The laboratory is where those swabs come, all the blood and other body fluids that require testing to help in the diagnosis and treatment of all diseases and ailments. COVID has added different additional testing, added divergent workflows due to the infectiousness of the samples, and challenged laboratorians with staying safe at work and at home.

"Even when exhausted, they kept going and never gave up. I couldn’t be prouder of this group of individuals."

What has encouraged you and kept you going during this challenging season of work and life?

KATHY: I have been encouraged by the amazing group of technicians and technologist in the microbiology department that have remained laser-focused on providing the best in patient care. Every time a new ask was made of this group they stepped up, worked overtime, gave up valuable time with family, and made it happen. Even when exhausted, they keep going and never gave up. I couldn’t be prouder of this group of individuals.

DARLA: Most laboratorians have a need to be here and helpful to the patients we serve, and I am no different. I knew early on I wanted health care and I thought nurse (as a lot of young women do) but I am more of a “behind-the-scenes” type of personality. A high school teacher of mine was a medical technologist also and he showed me that lab work is exciting and rewarding. My husband and children understand how important lab work is and fully support my passion.  They also understand more than most the seriousness of COVID and other emerging diseases.

What’s an experience you had that sticks out to you from these last 9 months that made you proud of the work you do or the team you are a part of?

KATHY: Early on, my laboratory was the only site in the Pittsburgh area performing SarsCoV2 testing for the UPMC facilities. We received boxes full of specimens to be sorted, ordered and tested throughout the day and night. One day a box arrived that had handwritten on the outside “ To be opened by Healthcare Heroes.”. I was so proud and humbled at this acknowledgment from someone outside our facility. We knew that we were providing critical results for the care of our patients but it was gratifying to know that others recognized the importance of what we do every day, pandemic or not.

DARLA: When the first COVID patient arrived and the call came to the lab to help with the planning and processing of samples, I knew then that we are in it for the long haul and that executive leaders understood the role we play. I do not have any direct responsibility for our microbiology/virology labs, but they are real heroes for the efforts to get a new novel virus testing developed before any national vendors were able to market a product. That is what laboratorians do- get it done, whatever it takes!

Lab Week 2020 at UPMC Susquehanna

Join us in taking a moment to thank a UPMC lab worker for their dedication, sacrifice, selflessness, and perspective in this challenging year we’ve faced. And if you know a lab worker, why don’t you take a moment to share this blog with them? It’s just one simple way to let them know your appreciation and gratitude for what they do and who they are. They are Hidden Heroes and Life Changers, and we applaud them, too.

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