88 DTS does it out of sight and beneath the surface

  • Published
  • By R.J. Oriez
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The 88th Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron “dominates the dirty work” behind the scenes often finding things that are hidden from view.

“When I was deployed to Afghanistan, I had that epiphany as a senior airman/staff sergeant,” said Senior Master Sgt. Elise Redziniak, 88 DTS Radiology former chief enlisted manager. “The doctors didn't know that my patients had a pneumothorax or a collapsed lung without my imaging and my expertise; or, that pulmonary embolism, the clot going through their lungs, without my CAT scan.”

The 88 DTS is comprised of four, highly-varied flights.

“Well, it’s your ancillary service,” Col. Stacey Van Orden, 88 DTS commander, explains. “Nutritional Medicine, Radiology, Pharmacy, Lab, that’s all your ancillary services—it’s all support service to the clinics."

Radiology Flight

The 75-person radiology flight is the second largest radiology clinic in the Air Force, providing 24/7 service encompassing MRI, nuclear medicine, mammography, ultrasound, x-ray and fluoroscopy imaging.

“I like to think that radiology is the nucleus of the medical mission,” Redziniak said. “What your eye, your naked eye cannot see is what we provide to those patients.”

The Airmen of the radiology flight are extensively trained. All of them attend the 13-month basic  radiology school. Then, most get advance training in different fields. Ultrasound  is an additional nine months,  MRI is an additional six months and nuclear medicine is another 13 months of training.

The technologists are people-driven and mission focused as they give mission support.

“We do that by having patients feel comfortable and safe when we do our procedures,” said Airman 1st Class Myahine Tan. “That way they feel like it's a good reason why they come in to see us. They're getting something effectively done.”

Staff Sgt. Isabella O’Donley, CT NCOIC, explains that the flight’s mission is two-fold. It is not just taking care of the patients.

“We support all of our workers in the Air Force, primarily, we also take care of retirees who have served their country. This is a really large base for retirement folks to come by. We take care of them,” O’Donley said. “But we also prep our Airmen. We make sure that all of our techs in radiology and CT are trained in both x-ray and CT because the mission requires, prior to deploying downrange, that they are trained to both x-ray and CT so they can do that for the folks down there.”

Laboratory Flight

“This laboratory here, it's kind of behind the scenes where a lot of medical decisions and action happens,” said Lt. Col. Anthony Polito, 88 DTS Laboratory Flight command. “Seventy percent of medical decisions are based on the lab results that are generated by this team. And it is a very diverse group of multidiscipline experts.”

Like its sister flight, Wright-Patterson’s laboratory flight provides 24/7 service and is second in size only to Travis Air Force Base’s. But, the 88 DTS has something the Travis flight does not have.

“We’re the second largest lab in the Air Force but only one of three with a blood donor center,” said Van Orden. The other two are at Lackland AFB and Keesler AFB.

Polito says the blood donor center collects approximately 2,500 units of blood a year.

“We're currently in kind of a peacetime setting,” he said. “The numbers had gone up historically during the Iraq war, we did about 7-9,000.”

Polito stressed even though it is peace time, the need is still there.

“It became very apparent after 9/11 that blood products, they need to be already donated to be useful,” Polito said. “When something happens, we have to have the blood on our shelf for it to be usable. What happens a lot of times is there's a shooting or national disaster, and then everyone donates blood. Unfortunately, it’s too late at that time.”

“If you donate a unit of blood, you can save a soldier’s life on the battlefield,” Polito added.

In addition to the blood donation center, the 100-person flight has departments for histology, chemistry, hematology, microbiology, urinalysis, transfusion services and, of course, the specimen collection department.

“I think a lot of people really just see the specimen collection downstairs and think the laboratory team just draws blood,” Polito said. “That's really just the doorway into all the different complexities in the laboratory department.”

In the laboratory spaces, up behind the blood donor center, Airman 1st Class Anwar Abdulmur works with the collected samples.

“This is my dream job, to be honest, it was my number one pick,” Abdulmur said. “I like looking underneath the microscope. I like the jigsaw puzzle as well.”

Abdulmur can see how his job fits in with 88th Air Base Wing’s mission to deliver war-winning capabilities.

“It helps with readiness, because we want to make sure everybody is in tip-top shape and ready to deploy, if need be, or wherever they need to go,” Abdulmur said.

Airman 1st Class Davion Grant knows what he does is important.

“If we weren’t here, a lot of people won’t get taken care of,” Grant said. “Basically, without the lab, doctors are just guessing about what’s wrong with the patients.”

During the pandemic, the laboratory really came into its own.

“For a long time, the only real weapon we had against COVID was testing so the demand for testing was so high,” Polito said. “People literally lived here to test because the demand for testing was greater than the supplies or the hours in the day to accomplish it.”

The Wright-Patterson Medical Clinic Laboratory did not just support the base during that challenging time.

“We had a formulation to make our own liquid that you had to put the swab in to run the test. We made our own in-house,” said Jessica Johnson, laboratory operations manager. “We gave some to the Department of Health, we gave some to Dayton Children's (Hospital). We were really community partners and there was a national shortage.

“Our team, here at Wright-Patt, stepped up and made the supplies that got distributed statewide. We distributed it to other MTFs across the Air Force. Because we had come up with, in collaboration with the pharmacy, had come up with the formulation from the Centers for Disease Control and made our own viral transport. We shipped out 1000s of vials and that came from us, our team here, working around the clock. There was a need and our team really stepped up.”   

Nutritional Medicine Flight

“I do think that nutrition, in general, is forgotten about in terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs where food, shelter and water are your primary necessities,” Maj. Ann Wilkins, 88 DTS Nutritional Medicine Flight commander, said. “Our culture has facilitated that any food is good food and that isn't necessarily true. There is a method for people to consume food that facilitates good performance and longevity of health.”

Wilkins said the days of one-size-fits-all nutrition and eating advice are gone.

“Our goal is to help people identify what the best eating method for them is,” she said. “Which isn't the same even for the people in the same family, with similar genetic profiles. It very much varies, as an individual, what is going to work for you. We're the specialty providers that have the toolbox to help you figure that out.”

Wilkins lists the different arms of her flight as inpatient, outpatient, health outreach and, the most visible, the medical center’s café.

Airman 1st Class Michael Rodriguez is part of the inpatient arm.

“Whenever we get injured or sick patients, it is our mission to make sure that they are ready to fight and heal,” Rodriguez said. “Our main focus is giving them the nutritional value that they need to go back in the fight.”

Rodriguez and Airman 1st Class Rawle Kamakie prepare seven trays for the various patients’ lunches, double checking which ones require low sodium or other dietary restrictions. They load them into a slotted cart and take them up to the ward in the elevator.

There, they walk the halls knocking on doors and delivering lunch. That’s Rodriguez’s favorite part of the job.

“I like interacting with the patients, getting to know them on a much more personal level,” Rodriguez said. “I get to actually hear their past history in the military, what they used to do.”

According to Wilkins, one of the biggest concerns for the Health Promotion arm is the new body-composition program the Air Force has rolled out.

“Our goal is to help facilitate meeting the requirements database based on the hero data from the annual (Periodic Health Assessments),” Wilkins said. “We want to get ahead of it to help (Airmen) to improve their lifestyle and eating habits.”

The Café is where most people interact with Wilkins’ flight. It serves breakfast and lunch to clinic staff, patients and anybody on base who wants to come by and get a meal. On a routine day, they serve approximately 300 lunches.

“We have a fantastic civilian staff that cooks for that and man it,” Wilkins said. “Then for under $5 you can get a whole container of delicious food!”

Pharmacy Flight

Like it’s Laboratory and Radiology sister flights, the Pharmacy Flight always has somebody working.

“We have inpatient pharmacy operations, which is what most people don't know about,” said Lt. Col. Benjamin Crandall, former Pharmacy Flight commander. “They support the hospital 24/7, 365. We're open, providing pharmacy services for the patients who are admitted and for the ER.”

The flight includes two outpatient pharmacies—the Atrium in the medical center, which fills prescriptions written by the medical group’s staff, and the Kittyhawk Pharmacy which fills prescriptions written by outside physicians and refills of all prescriptions. Kittyhawk is the busiest.

“Their primary job is to fill all of the prescriptions from the network providers, so anybody from off base, and they fill pretty much all of the refills,” Crandall said. “On average, they'll dispense somewhere around 15-1600 prescriptions a day. And, on average, (the Atrium) dispenses about 800 per day.”

Part of the flight is dedicated to supporting the Cancer Care Center.

“They support the Cancer Care Center, whatever types of chemotherapies they need,” Crandall said. “There's usually about 100 patients down there that they're supporting with whatever cancer-cures therapies.”

The 88 DTS also has clinical pharmacists.

“The providers are very smart people, but they don't always have a lot of time to go over your entire med-list and ensure that there's no interactions,” Crandell said. “And a lot of times, you'll see different providers who prescribe different things.”

Patients can be referred to a clinical pharmacist to take an overall look at all of their medications.

“They'll go through their list,” Crandall explained. “Let's say this one makes your blood pressure go up, and this one makes your blood pressure go down. Maybe we’ll just stop both of them and see how it goes.”

The 88 DTS four flights, with roughly 300 Airmen evenly split between active duty and civilians, dominate in their areas of the dirty work providing support to Team Wright-Patt.

“We are here to support our hospital’s mission to keep the warfighter healthy along with their beneficiaries,” Van Orden said. “From filling prescriptions and performing necessary critical laboratory analyses to teaching diabetes classes and helping our patients learn better nutritional techniques, 88 DTS is here to help our warfighters and family members remain healthy and resilient.”