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Energetic Microbiologist-Turned-Ambassador Puts Out a Call to Action for Medical Laboratory Volunteers for Haiti, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic

From volunteer services, to replaced equipment, to outdated NCCLS materials, anything can be of help in poor countries where no medical laboratories come anywhere close to those of the caliber many of us take for granted.

Carla Orner never sleeps. No one as busy as she is has time to waste on even a little shut-eye. She is the full-time ambassador for Heart to Heart International. Her relationship with Heart to Heart International (HHI) began during her attendance at a regional meeting of a medical laboratory organization. “A speaker who was a HHI employee asked for medical laboratory volunteers to assist in its mission,” she says. The rest is history, as the saying goes!  She works with doctors and nurses who volunteer, but her primary goal is to attract more medical laboratory technicians and technologists to join the volunteer effort through Heart to Heart. One tip that Orner shares with potential volunteers is that of the “mobile” CLIA license, which allows the establishment of a lab that can be operated anywhere in the United States.  In all her experience in filling out forms for CLIA, Orner confessed, “I never saw the box labeled ‘mobile.’”

Orner also continues to present at CLMA and ASCP, among other organizations’ annual and regional meetings.  For many years, she held a position as general manager of Regional Laboratory Alliance in Kansas City, MO, where she led an integrated network of community based hospitals and independent reference laboratories. Her 36 years of laboratory experience included night shift, evening shift, and 15 years microbiology. Among all of that, Orner was awarded a B.S. in Medical Technology from Central Missouri State University, and an MBA from MidAmerica Nazarene University.

Various Opportunities and Tips for Volunteering

Since 1992, through volunteer-driven efforts, the Heart to Heart International has provided medical education, delivered medical aid, responded to people in crisis, and addressed community-health concerns around the globe. One of its busiest missions has been in Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.  In a partnership with BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), Heart to Heart has opened two permanent clinics with accompanying laboratories.  BD employees were deeply involved from the selection of the test menu, to writing and translating SOPs, through unpacking and setting up the lab then competency training for the Haitian techs.  BD’s CEO Edward J. Ludwig, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, mentioned during this partnership that volunteer service trips, like those to Haiti, helps the company retain its employees who also represent BD in other volunteer locations throughout the world.

Currently, Orner is working with BD to provide continuing education for a group of 45 laboratory technologists from across Haiti. According to Orner, these 45 are trained “at a very competent MLT level.”  Among some shortcomings are, for example, that they do not have experience evaluating sensitivity or specificity of a new test method or writing  SOPs (standard operating procedures). “One of women told me that they have an ‘oral tradition’ in Haiti,”said Orner. There are just nine pathologists living in Haiti, and seven of these are anatomic pathologists.  Orner is hopeful that with her years of experience in microbiology, she will see the establishment of a microbiology lab in Haitian hospitals.

In an ongoing project, HHI is working with Sean Tucker MT(ASCP), Michael Laposata, M.D., Ph.D., and a team from Vanderbilt University to develop a “laboratory in a backpack” to carry into disaster response or take on remote medical missions to provide clinical laboratory data in extreme conditions.

In those instances when an SOP is needed, Orner calls on any of 250 interested volunteers (many of whom do not travel abroad) around the U.S. to write procedures for use in Haiti’s two labs and for one in Guatemala.  Orner has received calls from several clinical laboratory scientists trying to establish laboratories in developing nations. Heart to Heart is more than willing to share procedures and experience with anyone wanting advice.  These volunteers also send used equipment to Orner for use overseas.  The techniques used in developing nations are the ones we were using 30 years ago “so older, functioning equipment is perfectly suited to their labs.” And if a lab wants to voluntarily donate any outdated NCCLS (now CLIS) materials, those will suit overseas labs, too.

Heart to Heart International operates mobile medical units, such as the one shown above. Medical laboratory testing services are among the healthcare services provided by these units.

Heart to Heart International operates mobile medical units, such as the one shown above. Medical laboratory testing services are among the healthcare services provided by these units.

Heart to Heart’s Unique Start

The creation of Heart to Heart is described in detail at the organization’s website; however, the gist is that Gary B. Morsch, M.D., traveled with other medical professionals to Russia to assess the state of patient care in the Soviet Union. After seeing healthcare there he believed it was on the brink of collapse.  He saw some first-rate hospitals with many talented physicians but pharmacies devoid of medicines and medical supplies.

Upon his return to America, Morsch challenged his local Rotary Club to help provide those supplies to 15 of Moscow’s hospitals. Local collection drives and major pharmaceutical companies donated much needed products for what was the largest volunteer airlift in U.S. history on May 22, 1992, after the U.S. government provided its C-5A Galaxy aircraft—the largest Air Force cargo plane—to fly the medical aid to Russia. This gift from the heart of America to the heart of Russia helped coin the name Heart to Heart.

The organization provides assistance in the United States, too: the 2007 Greensburg, KS, and the 2011 Joplin, MO, are two recent events that found Heart to Heart volunteers taking care of the needs of displaced homeowners. To become a volunteer either at home or overseas, check the Heart to Heart website for an application: http://www.hearttoheart.org/Home/Get-Involved/Volunteerism.aspx, or contact the headquarters office for information on how to volunteer or to learn about events: 401 South Clairborne Road, Suite 302, Olathe, KS  66062; Phone 913-764-5200; Fax 913-764-0809; or email info@hearttoheart.org.

Chances are Carla Orner will be enthusiastically on duty 24/7 to respond to your message!

Related Information:

Partners in Health

Laboratories Without Borders

American Society of Clinical Pathologists’ Global Outreach

Clinical Laboratory Management Association’s YoungLab

U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

Medicin San Frontiers

National Disaster Medical System

Helps International

Mercy Ships

2 Responses to “Energetic Microbiologist-Turned-Ambassador Puts Out a Call to Action for Medical Laboratory Volunteers for Haiti, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic”

  1. Muetinta SHisholeka Yumb says:

    I am the Presisdent of the Biomedical Society of Zambia and have alertes our administrator at the Secretriate so we can assist.

  2. C. Orner says:

    Just a note to thank you for the great article in Dark Daily. My e-mail and phone have been burning up with people wanting to help with the lab projects we are doing domestically and internationally. There is no one that could have spread the word so far and so fast.

    EDITORS NOTE: Thank you Carla!

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