In this photo, Mirjana Dzanic of Lee Health works under a biological safety cabinet.
Vials of blood and urine move through the large machines, like workers on an assembly line. They enter holding secrets. When they emerge, lab employees interpret and unlock the results.
One patient will test positive for diabetes, another negative for cancer. Then, the process begins again with new vials from patients all around Lee Health.
“We are open 24/7,” Fran Cioffi said.
Cioffi has been the Cape Coral lab supervisor since 1974. She oversees a team of 28 people. Another 52 people work at the Cape Coral location. They test everything from sputum to fecal samples and deliver results to physicians and advanced providers as quickly as possible.
“For some tests we can have results within 24 hours,” Cioffi said. “We know it’s not a sample, it’s a patient. Our tests affect patients and families.”
Samples come into the Cape Coral Hospital lab beginning early in the morning and arrive from Lee Memorial Hospital, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, HealthPark Medical Center and all of the outpatient labs throughout the Lee Health system. Gulf Coast Medical Center has microbiology lab that processes all of its samples onsite.
“We are always busy,” Cioffi said. Her lab processes about 6,000 cultures for both urine and blood cultures each month. They also test cystic fibrosis, bacteria, fungus and mycobacterium cultures.
“The lab experts who work here have a degree,” Cioffi said. “Most of them have a BS (Bachelor of Science) in clinical science. We work very closely with pharmacy and the infectious disease doctors.” Assistants help round out the crew and are important to the laboratory.
Accuracy is important, and Cioffi keeps an oversized spiral binder with notations and processes readily available for inspectors who visit the lab on a regular basis. They are judged on proficiency and quality control.
“We have to be safe and accurate,” Cioffi said. “We also have to keep up with technology.”
Medical technologist Lou Latassa has worked in the lab for 30 years and spent a recent afternoon analyzing red and white blood cell counts, platelets and hemoglobin. He processes about 700 samples each day. While many tests emerge with firm results, some require further analysis.
“If we get abnormal cells we go to the microscope,” Latassa said. “We can get a better look.”
Lead lab assistant Danielle Tamburro spends much of her time outside the lab, drawing blood from patients in the hospital. Recently, because of coronavirus, her job has included new challenges.
“We have to wear gowns, N-95 (masks), booties, a cafeteria hairnet and goggles,” Tamburro said.
The outfit appears intimidating, but Tamburro compensates with a dose of extra kindness.
“I try to make it the best experience possible,” she said. “I love to listen to the patients’ stories. They are adorable.”
Cioffi is proud of the team that fosters healing by first discovering what is wrong, from minor infections to life-changing cancers.
“I love the people I work with,” she said. “We are here to help.”
Lab worker Jeff Williams loads an organism for identification in the Cape Coral lab location.