By Kate Hunger
Tiffany Roerich Wafford, MLS, SBB (ASCP), a Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences instructor, noticed something when she was typing donor blood in her previous role as supervisor of an immunohematology reference laboratory.
“I started noticing that the frequency of the antigens didn’t match up with what you see in the Caucasian population and saw some matched up with the African American population,” she said.
When she sought to learn more about what she was seeing in the lab, Wafford discovered a dearth of data.
“There is no really good data published in the literature about the frequency of these antigens in the Hispanic population,” said Wafford, who is scheduled to graduate in August with her Master of Science degree in transfusion medicine from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
Her observations—and the potential to help patients avoid complications caused when they produce antibodies after receiving a blood transfusion—inspired the subject of Wafford’s in-progress master’s thesis, “Prevalence of Rh, Kell, Kidd, Duffy, and MNS Antigens in the Hispanic Donor Population of South Texas by Immucor PreciseType HEA.” Her goal is to determine the frequency of antigens in the Hispanic population of South Texas in order to help improve treatment and decrease the risk of alloimmunization, which can cause transfusion reactions, complicate blood donation matches, and introduce risks for pregnant women, women who are trying to become pregnant and others with certain health conditions.
“It is important for preventing people from making antibodies, and it will help us be better able to treat patients needing blood transfusions,” she said of her research.
Wafford joined the faculty of the Division of Medical Laboratory Sciences as an adjunct assistant professor in January 2019 and transitioned to full-time faculty in September 2020. She teaches the immunohematology lectures and labs for the medical laboratory sciences for both the bachelor’s and master’s programs, fulfilling a dream that came true sooner than she imagined.
“I just enjoy watching the students grow, taking that little bit of knowledge and seeing how much they have learned and how excited they are,” she said.
Wafford earned a joint bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science from UT Health San Antonio and the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2010.
“I had a job before I even officially graduated from the program,” she said. “This program taught me a lot, and I’m so happy to be back and to be teaching the next generation of medical laboratory scientists.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted medical laboratory science as a profession, something Wafford says students have noticed.
“A lot of the students applied before the pandemic hit, but I think they have a new appreciation for how much attention we are getting,” she said. “I think it makes the students even more excited to be a part of this program.”