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Meet the IPC Experts! – Part 3

Posted: March 20th, 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

It’s National Poison Prevention Week!!

This week we continue our “Meet the IPC Experts” series with the third installment of our four part series.  Our staff of experts answered over 86,000 calls from the general public and healthcare professionals in Illinois last year. In their own words, learn more about their professional background, favorite parts of the job, most interesting cases, and even learn what they enjoy doing outside the poison center. These interviews are interesting sincere, personal and a bit humorous at times! We invite you to get to know your poison center experts…

Tony Burda, CSPI- Pharmacist and Diplomat of the American Board of Applied Toxicology

“I always wanted to be a pharmacist.  I started working at the IPC in February 1981 when it was still a part of Rush Hospital.  One day a pharmacist friend who worked at Rush, asked if I would be interested in volunteering at the Illinois Poison Center (back then the IPC accepted volunteers), and I jumped at the opportunity. Working at the IPC can truly be challenging at times. It requires keeping up with all the latest toxicology information and trends. There’s always a new twist to an old story, which adds variety to the work. But the routine calls are just as good. Being able to calm down callers, and give them reassurance is a great feeling.

I greatly enjoy working with my co-workers; they are a great team! Everyone genuinely wants to help each other expand their expertise.

My most memorable case was the Tylenol Cyanide scare in 1982.  In toxicology, this day is comparable to the same day the Challenger went down or JFK was shot. I remember pure chaos and panic in people. It was quite overwhelming. At that time the poison center was a much smaller operation with fewer staff and phones. But we worked as a team, pulling data and getting as much information as we could find.

Even after working at the poison center for 30 years, I like to handle the calls about pesticides. Sometimes we get calls when someone has ingested pesticides unintentionally, because the bottle was unlabeled, and no one is sure of what it is or even how old it is. Those cases can be very interesting and challenging.”

When Tony isn’t saving lives at the IPC, he enjoys spending time with his family, working out, listening to country music and audio books. He says that the best stress reliever for him is being outside, washing and waxing his car on a warm summer day. Every summer his neighbors take advantage of his stress relieving technique. (Smile)

Be sure to join our next twitter chat this Thursday (March 22) at 1 p.m. CST as we answer questions about drugs and alcohol. Use #poisonctrchat to follow the discussion.

Tracy Esposito, CSPI – ER Nurse

“I started working at the IPC 4 years ago. After working as a nurse in the emergency room for 4 years, I was getting burnt out. I began looking for something new and different – that’s when I came across the IPC. It was the perfect choice for me. The best part of my job is being able to help people.

My most memorable calls are the ones from hysterical moms (and dads) who call us upset and scared.  After talking to them, and letting them know they have nothing to worry about, the relief in their voices are priceless. Mostly because they are thankful they didn’t have to go to the ER, I’m sure. These types of calls are very rewarding because I can relate to them since I’m a mom too. Being able to calm someone and reassure them that their child is going to be ok is so gratifying.

On the flip side I also like working to help treat the really sick patients we deal with. It is an opportunity to work with the Toxikon Consortium experts. Not all poison centers have a medical back up like Toxikon. They are a great resource.”

Tracy’s hobbies include spending time at home with her family. The occasional date night with her hubby is great too!

Briggetta Ducre, RN, CSPI

“I’ve worked at the IPC for 8 years. After being a critical care nurse for several years, I decided to look for another opportunity, and the IPC was a great fit. At the IPC I finally feel like the professional that I am. When I speak to nurses and physicians about a patient, it is truly a collaborative effort. And for that, most physicians and nurse really are appreciative of the IPC. I always tell healthcare professionals don’t ever hesitate to call us – we’ll do your thinking for you, just call us!

Because I work late nights, often times the most interesting calls to I receive are the ones, where people think they’ve been poisoned by a significant other or someone else. Most of time, it isn’t serious or true. But in some cases I’ll be convinced that something malicious has taken place, and I’ll advise the caller to call the police immediately or go straight to the hospital. There really isn’t a call I don’t like handling, I just take them as they come. “

When Briggetta isn’t taking calls for the IPC, her hobbies include singing and modeling with the Thyck Troupe of Chicago.

Cindy Howard, CSPI – Nurse

“I’ve been working at the IPC now for 10 years. But before I started working at the IPC, I did retail pharmacy, and hospital pharmacy. I became familiar with the poison center while working at Rush Hospital pharmacy. I thought the IPC would present the perfect opportunity to learn something new all the time. There’s so much happening at the IPC, you really learn a lot. Working at the IPC merges biology and nursing, it is best of both worlds.

My most memorable case was a situation where a patient drank toilet bowel cleaner (it was an attempted suicide). It was my first call from a hospital. I remember working with Tony Burda first,  and then finally Toxikon got involved to help treat the patient. Although the patient didn’t make it, we worked very hard and gave the best care possible.

I love working with hospitals- walking them through a treatment, especially when it’s something they don’t deal with very often.  The IPC is a great resource for hospitals, when it comes to cases they really don’t see often.”

Cindy’s hobbies include working out, taking spinning and boot camp classes. She is also a fitness trainer and certified scuba driver. But most of all she really loves her dogs.

Mike Strugala, CSPI– Pharmacist

“I started working at the IPC 3 years ago. After finishing pharmacy school, I found out about a position at the poison center – and went for it. I love this job because I’m able to help frantic callers. It feels good helping them realize that their situation is not as grave as they think. I find the most interesting calls are those when people brush their teeth with everything but toothpaste; those items include but are not limited to: diaper rash ointment and super glue. They often feel embarrassed but I always tell them not to be – we’ve heard it all. My favorite calls to take are the aspirin or Tylenol calls because we’re so good at our treatment.  We really make a big difference. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if our service was not available.”

When Mike is not taking calls at the poison center, he enjoys spending time outdoorsand he is particularly fond of sailing on Lake Michigan.

Gennady Vatel, PIP, EMT-P

“Prior to my job at IPC, I was a paramedic on an ambulance service.  I initially took a position here for a change of pace.  Twelve years later, I’m still here.  I very much enjoy my job at IPC.  Having great coworkers is part of it, but I would say the biggest draw for me is the gratification in helping people when they could really use some help.  Not every call is an emergency, but nearly always there is a concerned friend or family member of the patient, or the patient themselves.  Commonly, the caller goes through a process with us: from them feeling out of control of the situation, to them getting it together with our help.

Unfortunately, there are times when the patient requires more care than what a phone consultation can offer.  Even then, arming the caller with an emergency room referral,  a referral to a specialist or to an outside agency, gives the caller a sense of being an active player rather than just a worried bystander.

One of my more memorable cases from not too long ago illustrates the above point.  A very worried man currently living in Chicago called about his eight year old son who was bitten by a snake in rural Mongolia.  That poor father, talk about feeling out of control of the situation!  His son was showing signs of snake envenomation. I had numerous follow-up conversations with the father, who would in turn convey our recommendations to the physician treating his son in Mongolia.  I also contacted the Tucson, AZ Poison Control Center (PCC) for their herpetological expertise.  They concluded that the snake was likely an Agkistrodon Halys, a pit viper common in that part of the world.  The child’s symptoms pointed to possible coagulopathy, which could benefit from antivenom treatment.  We suggested that the appropriate antivenom could be tracked down by the Russian and/or Chinese PCCs, and forwarded each center’s contact information.  As it were, antivenom therapy is not common practice out that way, and the Mongolian physician elected to stick with his own treatment plan.  It worked out though, and the child did recover, luckily.  So, it was an interesting case with a good outcome.  But, you could say that the patient’s father is the one who benefited most from IPC, just from us being in his corner, gathering information and treatment options for him, helping him to help his son.”

Stay tuned next Tuesday as we introduce more of our awesome staff.  In case you missed the bunch last week or the week before, click here or here to check them out!

And if you ever experience a poison emergency or just have questions, don’t hesitate to call our experts anytime at 1-800-222-1222. And if you have talked with one of these experts, tell us about your experience on our comments section below or here

To learn more about the types of calls these experts receive in a typical day, read “A Day in the Life of a Poison Center”. Don’t forget to celebrate Illinois Poison Prevention Month throughout the entire month of March. Click here to learn how you can get involved!

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Related posts:

  1. Meet the IPC Experts – Part 2!
  2. Meet the Illinois Poison Center Experts!
  3. IPC: Providing Toxicology Consults in Illinois


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