Presby Lab Worker Led Groundbreaking COVID Testing Effort

July 27, 2021

Lucy Perez trained workers on new instrument that vastly expanded testing ability.

Efforts.jpgFor the last 20 years Lucy Perez has been a medical technologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, where her dedication led her to an essential role in developing COVID testing protocols in the dark, early days of the pandemic in New York City.

From the pandemic’s beginning, NY-Presbyterian was handling most of the testing for New York City. The country was in crisis, and New York City was the epicenter. As COVID- 19 exploded, Presby, along with the entire medical establishment was feverishly working to understand the novel coronavirus along with effective treatments and fast, large-scale and life-saving testing.

“It was like the early days of AIDS,” she says. “People were afraid to come into the lab because they didn’t know what we were dealing with.”

In mid-winter 2020, Indiana based Rush Technologies developed a new testing instrument and an associated set of protocols that vastly increased test ability and accuracy.

Perez was tapped to lead Presby’s implementation of the machine and training lab workers.

“I got the call from Dr. Susan Whittier, head of pathology at NYPresbyterian, on March 14,” Perez says. “She asked me if I could do the validation of a new kind of COVID test.”

Perez was immediately sent to Indianapolis for training. There was simply no time to waste. Perez says both COVID-19 and the new instrument demanded new ways of thinking from lab workers and scientists. Perez tried to reassure her co-workers and was comforted by her faith, belief in science, and expertise.

“It required validating a test every time you take a test. You have to run different patterns and processes,” she says. “We were really working with something completely new.”

Her leadership role often required late night FaceTime calls with newly trained lab workers and even the occasional Uber ride to Presby from her Bronx home to address issues with the instrument or work with staff. Perez was unbothered, she says, viewing her work as a privilege.

“I always felt it was a gift from God,” she says. “I felt like this was my time to use all of my training and experience. I had been working up to this moment my entire career.”

In many ways, the work reminded her of what drew her to her chosen field and why she still loves it today.

“I fell in love with microbiology because I got to see how life works,” she says. “We find cures, and we help care for our patients. From day one that’s been my passion, because when I see someone ill or in pain, I feel their pain.”

1199 Magazine - May / June 2021