Grad specializes in dry ice, blood typing

First Lt. Sam Ismail spent 15 months in Afghanistan using the tools he learned in the UT Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School's medical laboratory sciences program to help military personnel and Afghan civilians have access to a safe, adequate blood supply.

The Army reservist -- a 1999 UT Southwestern graduate who was working at Parkland Memorial Hospital before being called to active duty -- was head of the military theater's blood-banking operations during his Afghan tour from March 2004 until June 2005. He was headquartered at Bagram Air Force Base, about 40 miles outside of the capital city of Kabul.

First Lt. Sam Ismail visits with an Afghan boy during his tour of duty there. The allied health school alumnus helped maintain an adequate blood supply for U.S. military personnel and Afghan civilians.

One innovation he introduced was the use of dry ice to transport frozen blood products to forward positions.

"I did my own research. I had my own little dry ice factory," Lt. Ismail said.

He also used his training to identify a rare blood type, called Bombay phenotype, in an Afghan citizen and was able to find a match worldwide through the International Red Cross.

On the heels of his successful blood-banking operations, Lt. Ismail was given a second area of command, the theater's medical equipment repair system, even though, he said, "I'm not an engineer."

One of Lt. Ismail's instructors at UT Southwestern, John Wentz, assistant professor of medical laboratory sciences, said, "He really is an example of someone who has taken what he learned at UT Southwestern É and made the most of these skills. All of us in medical laboratory sciences are proud of Sam."

For his active duty in Afghanistan, the lieutenant was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with a citation for tactical efficiency in combat. His award is being upgraded to a Bronze Star.

Recounting some of his tour experiences, Lt. Ismail said that on his flight into the country, his C-130 transport plane came under fire, had to take evasive actions and make a tactical landing.

Another time, a suicide bomber blew himself up just outside the staging area for a helicopter on which Lt. Ismail was preparing to transport troops. "I will never forget that," he said.

In his civilian life, Lt. Ismail works as a medical technologist in the central laboratory of Parkland's Pathology Department. He said he hopes to add a master's degree in hospital management to his resume.

A native of Kuwait and fluent in both Arabic and English, Lt. Ismail became a U.S. citizen in 2000. He joined the U.S. Army Active Reserves in June 2001.

The 32-year-old came to the United States in 1992 for flight school and became a Federal Aviation Administration-certified flight instructor. He enrolled at UT Southwestern after deciding he wanted a medical career. "UT Southwestern was my top choice," he said.

Now that he's home, he is enjoying spending time with his family: wife Sheila Sherman and four-year-old daughter Sarah.

In his spare time, he loves running: Every week he runs the equivalent of a marathon.

In Afghanistan running was "a way to relieve pressure," Lt. Ismail said. "To get away, I would go run about seven miles every other day" at Bagram's elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level.