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Histology: Where art and science merge

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Wiedmeyer, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System histotechnichian, looks at slides of tissues under a microscope before handing them off to a medical examiner June 6, 2019. The stained tissues help medical examiners see down to the cellular level for a diagnosis of cause of death. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm) Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Wiedmeyer, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System histotechnichian, looks at slides of tissues under a microscope before handing them off to a medical examiner June 6, 2019. The stained tissues help medical examiners see down to the cellular level for a diagnosis of cause of death. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)

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DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Histology is the study of tissue and when it comes to determining the cause of death of an individual, looking at their tissue down to the cellular level can be paramount.

This is the role of a histotechnichian.

“My job is important because without me, cause of death may never be known,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Wiedmeyer, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System histotechnichian. “In cases where injury is not apparent, a histological viewpoint could help pinpoint the source of a heart attack or an aneurysm, for example.”

As the only histotechnician in the military working in forensics, it is Wiedmeyer’s job to ensure tissue samples are processed, cut and stained for diagnosis to help determine cause of death, for AFMES and 13 MEs around the world.

“Histology is the intersection of art and science,” said Wiedmeyer. “The different stains I can use highlight structures and certain cell types. It is really is quite beautiful to see the human body on the tissue level.”

Wiedmeyer uses a processor to infuse the tissue with wax, giving it structure, before making a thin slice.

“The microtome helps me cut at four microns, which is less than 1/20th the thickness of a sheet of paper,” said Wiedmeyer. “This allows me to have just one cell level, which is good for staining and viewing under a microscope.”

Without a histotechnician, tissue processing would take much longer to be completed.

According to Wiedmeyer, prior to his arrival, cassettes were shipped to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Maryland, taking up to six weeks for cases to be completed. Now they are accomplished in approximately one to three weeks.

“Having such a competent and experienced histology technician like Wiedmeyer at AFMES is crucial to our work as medical examiners,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bryan Platt, AFMES forensic pathologist. “The diagnostic findings we look for on histology are often subtle and not typical of the work with which our (military treatment facility) pathology peers are experienced.”

Platt added how Wiedmeyer’s consistent high quality of work contributes to a complete and reliable forensic pathology investigations here.

Prior to joining the Navy, Wiedmeyer went to college for forensic biology. After learning about the career field and the role in forensics, he chose to enlist.

Following nine months of training in histology and four months of Corpsman School, Wiedmeyer started his career at WRNMMC, followed by AFMES.

“In the seven years I have been in the military, I have had the privilege to help behind the scenes with the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases allowing for a patient to get the treatment they need,” said Wiedmeyer. “At AFMES I am helping families get closure by providing details not seen with the naked eye. I am proud of what I do and has been a major part of me staying in the military.”

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