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Spotlight: Making a Proper Diagnosis Possible

Hector Marrero (right) is an autopsy/pathology technologist in the Department of Anatomic Pathology/Lab Medicine at UConn Health’s John Dempsey Hospital, where he has worked for nearly 35 years. He and his team deliver a host of vital services key to identifying disease and cause of death while providing medical students valuable hands-on surgical and laboratory experience.
“We do a lot of the technical work — very detailed and involved — that helps make a proper detection or diagnosis possible,” he said.
Marrero, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated University Health Professionals union, and the department’s staff of approximately 25 conduct a variety of critical tests in their labs. Surgical pathology, oral pathology and autopsy services are their primary areas of focus and support numerous other departments throughout the university’s health system, as well as partner institutions.
Those include the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), for which Marrero and his lab colleagues provide odontology services that support dental identification of a victim’s remains. The department also serves as the agency’s primary referral for cases that are are not criminal in nature.
Regardless of the cause of death, Marrero says, “every single case is important to us. We treat every body that comes through here with respect.”
Marrero believes that among the most valuable products of their lab services are the “conclusions” they help families reach about a loved one’s illness or death.
“We have cases where, for example, a young mother has lost her life and the family is anxious for us to figure out why,” he said. “We do — and in a reasonable timeframe; we’re not going to make them wait six months for a report. It’s important to give them timely answers so they can have some closure,” Marrero added.
Click here to learn more about clinical laboratory and pathology services at UConn Health.
More than the state’s only public acute care facility, UConn Health is also an institution of higher learning and the department plays an important role in educating its medical students. A unique fellowship program provides a year-long experience in hands-on surgical pathology and lab work for those in their second year at UConn’s medical school.
“It’s an opportunity for students to take a break from their studies to refresh and refocus,” said Marrero. “They’re often not sure about their specific field of practice. Seeing how the process works here can help them decide if they’re interested in performing surgeries,” he added.
In addition to the fellowship, the department participates in the medical school’s residency program and partners with other institutions of higher learning to support their students’ education. The department has teamed up with Quinnipiac University’s Pathologists Assistant (PA) program at their recently opened school of medicine. 
Click here for press reporting on Quinnipiac’s new residency program.
“It’s a real honor to get the chance to help these students improve,” said Marrero. “And it’s enjoyable to watch them grow. “I’m so proud — especially of those that came from nothing — and are working toward a goal,” he added. 
Marrero sees a bit of himself and his own history in the students who work alongside him. After growing up in the Bronx, he came to Connecticut for the opportunity to make a better life for himself and his family. That led to his first job in healthcare at St. Francis Hospital and classes at Greater Hartford (now Capital) Community College. Together, his initial work experience and higher education paved the way for a career in public service at UConn Health.
“This place has provided me with the means to support my family and give back, too,” said Marrero.
Click here to watch Marrero share more about the value of his lab work.
National Forensic Science Week (ForSciWeek) has been recognized annually since 2014 to highlight the vital role of scientists, technologists and investigators in the U.S. criminal justice system. The goal is to help the public better understand how quality lab analysis improves investigations, leads to the exoneration of the innocent and successful prosecution of the guilty. 
As elected officials consider tough choices for closing state budget shortfalls, they would be wise to consider the importance of forensic services like those that Marerro and his team deliver. Ensuring UConn Health’s anatomic pathology and lab medicine department has the resources it needs is one way legislators can support core functions that patients, families and students depend on.
Click here to learn more about national ForSciWeek from the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC).

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