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UW-L alum helped pioneer saliva COVID-19 test in Minneapolis

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - UW-La Crosse alumnus Khadel King helped clinical lab scientists develop saliva COVID-19 tests in Minneapolis.

The global pandemic hit three months after King started working at Hennepin Healthcare's toxicology clinical lab. The demand increased for medical technologists on the molecular floor as the need for test results intensified.

King moved units to help with the staff shortage and said his UW-La Crosse curriculum prepared him for real-world lab work.

"I mean someone's well-being is affected by it. So having that was really great and the classes that I took really set me up for a good foundational knowledge," King said. "There are definitely times where I'm like, 'Yep, I remember when Dr. Lazzari said that exact thing in this lecture.'''

He helped develop the first saliva test in Minneapolis. It was the same test the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team used. Patients and clients preferred this type of test instead of invasive nose swabs.

Medical technologists worked around the clock to keep up with the demand.

"I was just mentally fatigued I guess," King said. "Fortunately the work itself wasn't too bad. I can get through it but just like mentally getting done with 1,000 samples and then turning to look at the bench and there are 10,000 more is just defeating almost."

UW-La Crosse clinical laboratory science program director Michael Lazzari said Khadel's work on pioneering the tests and the literature behind it is big for someone fresh out of college.

"That's not something that's commonly seen in someone who just graduated in a year or two so it's kind of highlighting someone from this major can go out into the hospital setting and kind of progress," He said he's proud of Khadel, but not surprised. "Very few people actually know what a clinical laboratory scientist does but when we have examples like Khadel and these types of stories you get to kind of see and highlight what a clinical science laboratory does and how we are involved in healthcare."

After nine months at the molecular department, King said they went from three to 15 full-time staffers, allowing him return to toxicology.

King is applying for medical schools and considering a focus on infectious disease.

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Marcus Aarsvold

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