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Capt. Denzel Garner, left, and two U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella medical officers cut a ribbon to celebrate the opening of the new pathology lab on Tuesday.

Capt. Denzel Garner, left, and two U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella medical officers cut a ribbon to celebrate the opening of the new pathology lab on Tuesday. (Betsi Currence / US Navy)

Patients at U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella no longer have an agonizingly long wait for test results.

The hospital laboratory’s new anatomic pathology division can process tissue specimens, biopsies and Pap smears in-house rather than sending them to larger military hospitals.

“It was a delay of three to four weeks for [test results] on tissue that could be potentially cancerous,” said Lt. Luis Nunez, head of the laboratory department in Sigonella, Sicily. “A doctor took a biopsy, and for a month, you’d be on pins and needles.”

Patients now will get their results within a couple of days.

Women also used to wait weeks for Pap smear results. The new ThinPrep 2000 analyzer processes them within a couple of days.

“They don’t have to sit around and worry two to three weeks and wonder if they have cervical cancer,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Stabley, staff pathologist. “... It gets the doctors the results quicker as well so they can make necessary diagnostic decisions sooner.”

The division has about $250,000 worth of equipment for cytology (such as Pap smears) and histology (tissues and biopsies), Nunez said. Sigonella is among very few 17-bed hospitals to have histology/cytology capabilities, Stabley said.

The equipment was inspected last week, and the hospital had a ribbon-cutting Monday.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Douglas Deltour, a histology technician, said one of his main instruments is the microtome, which slices tissue. The latest machine is automated with a foot peddle he taps, kind of like a sewing machine.

“It’s great,” he said. With the older machines, “you usually have to crank it to turn it. A lot of histo techs get carpal tunnel from the repetitive motion.”

Stabley said the new division may help lessen costly medical evacuations for suspected cancer patients who turn out to have something benign. With the new instruments, the lab also can quickly aid doctors during surgery.

“If the surgeon is operating on a patient, we can freeze the piece of tissue, put it under the microscope and help ... the surgeon to make a decision about a patient’s treatment while under anesthesia,” Stabley said.


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