Veteran Thanks VA Laboratory and Hematology Team - VA Portland Health Care System
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Veteran Thanks VA Laboratory and Hematology Team

Veteran Steven Johnson, far right, presents Kathleen Miles, VA chemistry supervisor, with a special plaque to thank her and her team for saving his life.

Veteran Steven Johnson, far right, presents Kathleen Miles, VA chemistry supervisor, with a special plaque to thank her and her team for saving his life.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Steven Johnson is a Veteran who served in the United States Coast Guard from 1961-1969.

Mr. Johnson had an ongoing issue with dizziness due to unstable blood pressure. In January of this year he was hospitalized at the Roseburg VA where he was found to have rapidly clotting blood. Upon discharge, his labs began to be monitored by Portland VA Hematology staff and in May 2018 he established care with Dr. Ted Braun.

When Mr. Johnson came to Portland for his initial consultation and had his blood drawn, it took over 90 minutes and multiple phlebotomists – his blood was as thick as jelly. Lue Ann MacKenzie, a medical technologist, began to run his blood and it gummed up the analyzer. She immediately recognized that it was not just a blood clot. A team of medical technologists - Lue Ann Mackenzie, Dawn Hornby, Christopher David and Ryan Snodgrass - put their heads together to figure what was going on. Together they decided on a plan to dilute the blood and manually calculate the protein level. The result sent a shock wave through the lab. Mr. Johnson’s protein levels were higher than anyone could have imagined! Chris called Dr. Braun to let him know. The Veteran was in hyperviscosity syndrome – which could be fatal.

Dr. Braun called Mr. Johnson, who was already almost two hours away, and asked him to return to the hospital to be admitted. He was found to have Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (WM), a rare type of blood cancer.

But the story doesn’t end there…

Mr. Johnson met with laboratory staff recently to thank them for saving his life.

Mr. Johnson and his wife Gale met with laboratory and hematology staff recently to thank them for saving his life.

During his admission, Jennifer King, RN with the Cancer Care Navigation Team, went to the bedside to meet with Mr. Johnson and his wife. The Veteran expressed a strong desire to meet and thank the lab team who helped save his life. Jennifer tracked down all the team members involved and took Lue Ann, Chris, Dawn, Ryan, along with their supervisor, Kathleen Miles, to the Veteran’s bedside. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were overcome with emotion and joy to meet the team. His wife said, “Because of you, he will die with this disease and not because of it.” There were tears and hugs all around the room. “I’ve been in this business for 35 years and I have never had anything like this happen,” said Kathleen Miles, “No one ever asks to meet us!” It was clear the medical technologist felt honored and touched that the Veteran wanted to personally thank them for their care.

For the past six months, Mr. Johnson has been under the care of multiple talented providers, including Dr. Braun and Jennifer King, and is doing well. He recently came in to the Portland VA Medical Center for chemotherapy and had a special gift to present to the laboratory staff. He had a plaque made that says, “This is the A team of all lab rats.” Unbeknownst to Mr. Johnson, the Laboratory staff also had a surprise for him! They gave him a t-shirt that read, “The lab saved my life.” It was a truly special moment for all. 

Mr. Johnson holds up a shirt that says

Mr. Johnson holds up a shirt that says "the lab saved my life."

Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for letting us share your inspirational, courageous story with fellow Veterans, families, staff, and the VA community!    

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