Given the choice of a career that involves handling blood, urine, stool and tissue samples and lots of bad bacteria, most people would probably take a pass, but not Megan Meader. Armed with her bachelor’s degree in biology, Megan had always been interested in the field of science, but hadn’t found a career she was passionate about.
That all changed after giving birth to daughter Emma in 2012. Before Emma’s birth, Megan had struggled with infertility issues for years. It was during this time that she met a medical technologist in her doctor’s office and learned about the important work they do.
“I wanted to help people – but especially other parents who had traveled down the same road I had,” said Megan referring to her infertility issues. “I went back to school to pursue my medical technology degree with the intent of getting into endocrinology/reproductive technology.”
But, after completing her clinical rotation at Akron Children’s, Megan had a change of heart.
“The people I worked alongside during my rotation had the same outlook and perspective as to why we were all here – the kids,” said Megan. “Their caring attitudes and compassion made me fall in love with Akron Children’s, and I knew this was where I belonged.”
Studying tissue samples
In July 2016, Megan was hired into the histology and microbiology departments as a float. Currently she works 4, 10-hour shifts with 12 hours a week in Histology and 28 hours in microbiology. She starts her days in histology (where they study tissues) from 6-8 a.m. Megan’s duties include getting the embedders, stainers and water baths ready for the day, preparing specimens like tonsils, appendixes and biopsies to be cut, and collecting specimens from surgery and prepping them for the pathologists.
“We work directly with the pathologists and are the median between surgery and the result,” she said. “Tissue samples are dehydrated and fixed via a chemical process in formalin that helps hold the cellular structure of the tissue and cells. Surgical specimens that need to be assessed immediately can be frozen, cut on the cryostat, stained, and assessed by our pathologists in a timely manner.”
Megan prepares a placenta that was sent over from Akron General Cleveland Clinic to be processed for abnormalities. The placenta was washed and fixed overnight, and she preps the tiny cassettes that the placenta tissue samples will be placed in. Different masses and organs call for a different number of slides. The placenta will get a minimum of 3 slides cut to 5 microns (thinner than the thickness of Saran Wrap) while a scalp mass that had 6 different areas biopsied will require more.
The histology lab uses an automatic tissue stainer to highlight the chemical makeup in a tissue sample as well as many manual stains that help diagnose abnormal cell structures.
Identifying bad bacteria and other organisms
At 8 a.m. Megan heads to microbiology (the study of microscopic organisms) where there are 4 different bench positions – one of which is processing and plating all specimens and running them on the FilmArray® (a molecular-based analyzer that tests for bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites and a few important antimicrobial resistance genes).
“This is a wonderful addition to our lab,” Megan said. “We’re able to give presumptive identification results of pathogenic organisms present from positive blood cultures, meningitis/encephalitis panels, respiratory panels, and GI panels in about an hour. This is a remarkable turnaround time considering results via standard culture methods on these specimens would take 24-48 hours to report out.”
Another work bench in Microbiology evaluates critical cultures on blood and spinal fluids, but is also a catch-all station for other miscellaneous tests like fungus and strep throat cultures. A third position works up and results wound and aerobe cultures, anaerobic cultures, and respiratory cultures – which can be very complex due to the high volume of cystic fibrosis specimens received from the Robert T. Stone Respiratory Center.
Today, Megan is analyzing and reporting gram stain results (a special staining method used to preliminarily determine the presence of bacteria in a specimen) and evaluating and working up urine and stool cultures to identify pathogens like E.coli, Salmonella and Shigella.
“In microbiology, you have to make trained judgment calls on what is normal bacterial flora and what is actually causing the infection,” she said. “We use a variety of biochemical tests, along with observing the appearance of the growth and morphology of each species of bacteria to get an idea of what each colony type might be. Some bacteria have distinct colors and growth patterns that clue us in to its identification.”
Discovery, investigation and research
If Megan can’t use manual methodologies to identify an organism she uses the Vitek® analyzer, an automated machine that uses complex biochemical reactions to identify species and test bacteria for antibiotic sensitivity panels.
“The machine will analyze reactions of bacteria diluted in saline against a large variety of chemicals for 12 to 24 hours to identify it,” she said.
Megan says she likes microbiology because there’s lots of discovery, investigation and researching the cause.
“I love the challenge of investigating what organism is making a child sick,” she said. “We can then test that organism, if appropriate, against commonly used antibiotics giving us a sensitivity panel result that will guide doctors on the right course of antibiotic therapy.”
While the medical technologists don’t personally interface with patients, they know they’re an important behind-the-scenes piece of the puzzle to get patients on the road to recovery.
“We get results to the physicians as quickly as we can so they can make their diagnosis and treatment plans,” she says. “It’s rewarding to read about a patient on the blog or myKidsnet and put a face with a culture we’ve been working up for days and hearing about their positive outcomes.”
It’s all about the kids
Megan takes the philosophy stated in the hospital’s mission to heart and treats every child’s specimen as if it was her 4-year-old daughter’s.
“Ultimately I am affecting a child’s health and well-being,” she said. “For every specimen that comes through our doors, there is a parent, sibling or family member waiting on a result. I want to use my knowledge to get them an accurate result in a timely manner. If that doesn’t keep you inspired and passionate about your job, I don’t know what would!”