VOLUME 30, NUMBER 33 THURSDAY, May 20, 1999

Pharmacy intern's life-saving advice

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Pharmacy student Brian Olney didn't expect to save anyone's life when he reported to his internship job one Friday last month.

As a fourth-year student in the six-year doctor of pharmacy program, Olney spends 20 hours per week during the school year in a Wegmans pharmacy to fulfill requirements for his pharmacy degree.

Olney His duties include filling prescriptions under the pharmacist's supervision, answering customers' questions and assisting them in selecting over-the-counter medicines.

But on this particular day, Olney would give one customer advice that may have meant the difference between life or death.

The conversation began the way many do: an older woman came up to the counter and asked Olney what over-the-counter medicine he would recommend for a bad headache.

Instead of simply directing her to the aisle where acetominophen or ibuprofen are kept, Olney asked her about her headache.

"She told me it felt like the worst headache she'd ever had."

He asked her to describe the onset of the headache. She told him she had been watching television when it hit her all of a sudden.

"Those two things-that it was the worst headache she'd ever had and that it hit all of a sudden-made me suspect right away that either it was a blood vessel that had burst or a stroke," he said.

Olney explained that he had learned that if left untreated, either of these conditions can kill. He told her that she needed to see her doctor right away. The customer was surprised, but followed his advice.

Olney didn't hear anything more about her until about a week later when another woman asked if he was Brian.

"I said I was and she said, 'well, I want to thank you.' I said, 'for what'?"

It turned out that it had been her mother who had come to Olney asking about headache medications; luckily, she had taken his advice and gone directly to her doctor, who then sent her immediately to the emergency room.

There, Olney's initial suspicion was proved correct. The woman had suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage-a burst blood vessel-but because she had sought treatment early, physicians at the hospital were able to treat the condition with medication and supportive care. After a few days in the hospital, the woman was able to return home and is making a good recovery.

"It wasn't like I was trying to do anything heroic," said Olney, "but I was just trying to focus on what we could do for her. She wasn't going to go to her doctor just for a headache, but if she had let it go just another day, that could have been it."

Olney credited the UB pharmacy doctoral program, which has a strong emphasis on disease-state management, with giving him the knowledge that allowed him to make the proper recommendation.

And, according to Wayne K. Anderson, dean of the School of Pharmacy, stories like Olney's are not unique.

"There are hundreds of these stories that can be told by pharmacists and pharmacy students everywhere," Anderson said. "In fact, I doubt you could find a pharmacy in Buffalo that doesn't have a story like this one."

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