O N T H E R O A D W I T H A C T S C P H L E B O T O M I S T
MARY TOFFLEMIRE’S DAY PLANNER reads like a travelogue of Northern and Central California locales. She’s a certified phlebotomy technician who spends far more time on the road than she does at the CTSC Clinical Research Center (CCRC) facility. Tofflemire, typically accompanied by a clinician or a research coordinator, journeys in a Toyota Prius nicknamed “Patty” to draw blood samples in the homes of participants in MARBLES (Markers of Autism Risk in Babies – Learning Early Signs) and other research studies. The team also meets study participants at the MIND Institute.
On a Monday, Tofflemire might drive to Gilroy. If it’s Tuesday, she must be in Modesto. She heads to San Leandro on Wednesday, and Modesto on Thursday. On a Friday she might be in Half Moon Bay. No matter where she has traveled, she must drive back to the CCRC at day’s end to process the samples she has collected.
Tofflemire is prepared to calm patients who might scream, cry and wiggle. Her tools for blood draws include the “papoose,” a board with canvas wrapping that some children with autism find comforting. At a home visit, a study coordinator may vacuum – not to clean, but to collect dust samples as part of an environmental assay. “When we arrive at subjects’ homes, it looks like we’re a cleaning crew. We unload vacuums and containers, and I have my little pull cart that I use to carry all of my equipment,” Tofflemire said. “We follow a specific protocol for each visit to ensure that it’s done exactly the same way every time.”
“Mary has an uncanny ability to quickly connect with patients and their families, building genuine rapport and trust early in the visit,” reports Nicole Hansen, associate director of the CCRC. “Our study participants often lead challenging lives, and providing them with a phlebotomist who is able to help alleviate their stress is an asset for them as well as for our investigators.”
The CCRC team’s home visits are crucial to ensuring that busy families can participate in state-of-the-art research on a wide range of disorders, from autism to multiple sclerosis.