Dr. Amanda Widmer explains the third stage of the Polymerase Chain Reaction laboratory process as Colin Pritchard looks on. Image Credit: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Advancement in local health care

Microbiology diagnosis tool to benefit KGH patients, medical students

Colin Pritchard listened to how the new diagnostic equipment addition to advance the clinical care, research and education capabilities at Kelowna General Hospital and shakes his head.

“Mindboggling,” said Pritchard.

But while the Polymerase Chain Reaction microbiology laboratory addition to the hospital may be hard to understand in non-science terms, Pritchard heard enough to see how the highly advanced diagnostic instruments could be a valuable lifesaving and teaching tool.

That’s why the Colin and Lois Pritchard Foundation made a donation to purchase the equipment for the Larissa Yarr Medical Microbiology laboratory at KGH.

It will allow laboratory staff to detect and identify specific antibiotic resistance mutations, bacteria and viruses faster than ever before.

Currently, most viral diagnostics must be sent to Vancouver for testing in a reference facility, with delays in getting the results because of the travel time.

The new PCR instrumentation will allow for significantly increased capacity to test for viral illnesses at the hospital, a direct benefit to patients especially when time is of the essence in making a diagnosis.

It’s not the first act of philanthropy by the Pritchard Foundation for KGH. Since being founded in 2007, the foundation has helped the hospital make several acquisitions: endoscopic ultrasound in 2015, which allows highly detailed gastrointestinal imaging; the Maldi Tof analyzer in 2013, which speeds bacterial identification; and the tele health and video conferencing in 2012, allowing for remote specialist consulting and diagnostic work to be done where people live.

Doug Rankmore, executive director of the Kelowna Hospital Foundation, was one of many guest speakers to acknowledge the Pritchard Foundation’s donation during the unveiling of the new PCR equipment to the media, hospital and UBCO officials Thursday afternoon.

The UBCO connection is critical as Rankmore said his conversations with Colin Pritchard about potential donation needs tend to revert back to how it might enhance both patient care and education.

The donation also supports an ongoing partnership with UBCO’s department of biology and Co-Op Education Program.

“The involvement of UBCO is important to me,” Pritchard said, as his foundation has in the past donated several gifts to the university over the years, including bursary support for the Southern Medical Program students, research opportunities for SMP students at the BC Cancer Agency, simulation equipment and ultrasound technology.

Today, philanthropy in health care is often focused on cancer or cardiac care, said Dr. Edith Blondel-Hill, KGH medical microbiologist who has worked directly with the Pritchards.

“Supporting the microbiology laboratory with new technology to improve the diagnosis of infections will ultimately result in better antibiotic use, to preserve these lifesaving medications for future generations.

“This donation demonstrates the (Pritchard family’s) commitment to the present and future health of our community.”

From the education perspective, the PCR laboratory addition will open up student co-op work opportunities for microbiology students at UBCO.

April Mahavolic, from Summerland, will be the first recipient to benefit from the co-op funding, working at the KGH lab with the PCR technology this summer.

“It’s the first year of the co-op program at UBCO so it’s nice, having been born and raised in Summerland, to get this work experience locally at our hospital and be able to stay near family and friends,” Mahavolic said.

She said the inherent benefit of co-op programs is to get experience in the workforce in our chosen field of study.

“It’s kind of a vicious cycle as employers want to hire people with experience but you can’t get experience of employers don’t hire you. For me, this opportunity allows me to get my foot in the door and make that little piece of paper you receive at graduation mean a little bit more.”