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Volume 32
July - August - September 2001

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Jesús R Milanés(Diomy's Journey)

by Trever Patriquin

~The inspiring story of an outstanding Cytologist ~

Mark Twain once wrote, "By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean". After interviewing the subject of this article, Diomy Milanes, I believe I understand what Twain meant. Diomy is a man well acquainted with adversity ,and despite many hardships he has forged a life filled with accomplishments, both professional and personal.

Diomy's story begins in the country of Cuba,

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where he was born on August 16th, 1925 on his grandfather's farm, "Los Dolores" near the small city of Santa Cruz del Sur. Diomy's full name is actually Jesus Roque Diomedes Milanes y Miguel. Try signing ten cheques really fast with that handle! However, since Americans (and Canadians for that matter!) seem to frown upon using the name Jesus, he chose to go by the name that his wife always called him by: Diomy.

When I asked Diomy to describe his early childhood in Cuba, he related happy memories of growing up on his father's sugar cane plantation, "La Baria", despite the lack of modern amenities such as indoor plumbing and electricity. Diomy was quick to point out, however, that the latter did become available in 1936, which was till eleven years late in my estimation! The oldest of five children (three sisters and a brother), Diomy remembers having to ride four kilometers on horseback every day in order to attend elementary school! And to think that I complain about how stuffy my car gets on a hot, summer's day! And before you begin to think, "Hey! What's the big deal about having no electricity and riding a horse?" consider this: "When was the last time you had to contend with a deadly hurricane?" On average, Cuba is struck or brushed by a hurricane every three years, and in November of 1932, a fierce hurricane caused a large storm surge near Santa Cruz del Sur. Diomy's great-grandparents from his mother's side and fifty other members of his family perished from the resulting deluge. By the time the storm had swept over the small country, more than 2500 people were dead. To be certain, it was a harsh lesson in life for a little boy of seven to learn.

When Diomy was fourteen years old, his father sent him to military school where he completed his primary and secondary education. The strict environment of the school taught Diomy the value of discipline and commitment; lessons that I am sure served him well later in life. Upon turning seventeen, Diomy's parents took their children to the city of Camaguey, the capital of the Province, so that they may attend better schools. It was there that Diomy enrolled at the Instituto de Camaguey to obtain his Bachelor of Science degree after five years of study.

Diomy's goal at that time was to become a medical doctor, a goal which his mother nurtured since her own father, Eusebio Miguel Sastre, was also an MD who came to Cuba with the Spanish Army. So with his B.S. degree in hand.

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Diomy entered the University of Havana Medical School in 1950 to embark upon seven arduous years of study. To say that Diomy was solely focused on his goal to the exclusion of all other fields of interest, however, would not be fair. From my correspondence with him, I gained a clear impression that he must have been a very curious and inquisitive child, traits which he carried with him into adulthood. Indeed, Diomy assured me that other areas of study including Paleontology and especially Cytology fascinated him. Diomy remembers buying the "Atlas of Exfoliative Cytology" from the university bookstore in 1952. Written by papanicolau George N. Papanicolaou, MD, the originator of the it further sparked Diomy's interest in the field.

It was during his first year at Medical School that Diomy was infected by a bug: the love bug that is! It happened in the incredibly romantic environment of the dissection room in the Anatomy Lab where he just happened to bump into Mireya Lioba, a fellow student who he now adoringly refers to as "his love". I didn't ask Mireya if Diomy considers himself the original "latin lover" but from the impish grin on his face in the photos included with this article, I deduced he fancies himself a bit of a Don Juan! Despite this, Mireya ended Diomy's bachelor ways when she married him five years later. While living in Havana, Diomy and Mireya had two boys: Jorge the oldest and Oscar. Their third son, Tony, would be born later in the United States. In describing his wife, Diomy says that she is an excellent communicator and few people can surpass her knowledge and understanding of her favorite hobby: collecting Barbie Dolls.

Diomy was just completing his fifth year of medical school when the political turmoil that has always been a constant in Cuba's history would forever alter his destiny. Since the time of the early Spanish settlers, Cubans have been subject to a long history of dictators and tyrants, self appointed or falsely elected. From 1900 to 1957, when Diomy and his family finaIly left Cuba, the country was dominated by corruption, government incompetence and increasing American control of the economy. By 1956, Havana was literally overrun by mobsters from Miami and New York who lined the pockets of government officials with money gained from gambling and prostitution. Meanwhile, poverty and unemployment increased and the countryside was virtually ignored.

In September of 1956, two thousand students from the University of Havana took to the streets to protest the corrupt regime of the then dictator, Fulgencio Batista. In retaliation, Batista closed the University down, leaving Diomy two years short of obtaining his medical degree. However, Batista's problems continued to grow when in December of 1956, Fidel Castro and his small band of guerrillas launched the Cuban Revolution, which by 1959 would end Batista's reign of terror only to replace it with communist rule. By the spring of 1957, many of the students from Havana University had already left Cuba to finish their degrees in other Spanish speaking countries such as Mexico and Spain. However, Diomy and his wife were faced with the greater responsibility of supporting and caring for their first two sons, Jorge and Oscar. It soon became clear to Diomy that in order to secure a better future for himself, his wife and their children, they would have to leave Cuba.

Since Diomy had already completed certain subjects such as Microscopy, Bacteriology and Histology, he was able to obtain a "Working Contract Document" to work as a Medical Laboratory Technologist at St. Francis Hospital in Miami Beach, Florida. So on April 15th, 1957, Diomy boarded a DC3 in Havana for a short, one-hour flight to Miami International Airport, where he would establish himself before bringing the rest of his family. Despite the brevity of his journey, I can't help but think that he must have felt like he was traveling between two different worlds: leaving behind one burdened by confusion and fear and traveling towards one filled with hope and anticipation.

In order to secure his position at St. Francis Hospital, it was necessary for Diomy to take the Florida State Board of Health Certification, which he passed. After only three short weeks, Diomy's supervisor, who was very impressed with his work, asked him if his wife Mireya would like to come work at St. Francis as well. Diomy quickly replied, "Does a child like candy?". In Diomy's own words, "At that moment I saw all my problems resolved, because with Mireya at my side we will conquer, she is more dedicated that I am."

I asked Diomy if there was any hostility in the United States towards Cuban immigrants at that time and he replied that there was none. As a matter of fact, Diomy explained that there were very few Cubans in Miami at that time and that it was difficult to find anyone who spoke Spanish! Fortunately, Diomy and his wife were able to visit a close friend who worked at the Jackson Memorial Hospital and Mrs. Milanes had a cousin in Florida as well. Perhaps a humorous incident that Diomy related to me best sums up the average American's attitude towards Cuba at that time. One day, a nurse in the hospital asked Diomy and his wife in a matter-of-fact voice, "On what train can you go to Havana?.

A year after their arrival in the States, their third son,Tony was born. In Diomy's own words they"... were content and happy with three wonderful boys and making a decent salary". After spending year at St. Francis Hospital, Diomy and Mireya transferred to Jackson Memorial Hospital where they continued to work for four more years. Despite,their early successes, I asked Diomy if he and his wife had still harbored the desire to complete their medical degrees. Diomy replied that they had investigated the possibility of doing so by submitting their transcripts to various institutions including : the Universities of Miami, Emery and Toluene but in each case, they were turned down.

Diomy explained that the US educational establishment of the 50's was very prejudicial towards students from other countries. Despite this injustice, not once did I sense any bitterness or resentment in Diomy's answers. In fact, according to his personal web page, Diomy enthusiastically proclaims the United States to be "...a wonderful country" and perhaps it was this passion for their adopted homeland that led Diomy and Mireya to seek further opportunities for growth and fulfillment by moving their family to California in the early 1960's.

As you will recall, Diomy, born in Cuba, left Havana in 1957 with his young family to live in the United States. Although unable to continue with his medical degree, Diomy and his wife Mireya were fortunate enough to work in the field of Medical Laboratory Technology to support their family in Florida. They felt that there would be more opportunity for them in California and so once more they set out to find a better life. Upon arriving in California, Diomy and Mireya once again had to pass certification, this time by the California Board of Health. I am sure you will not be surprised to read that they were both successful! After establishing their credentials, they quickly assumed positions at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys and soon thereafter, Diomy was placed in charge of the Blood Bank.It was around this time that Diomy decided to pursue his life-long interest in Cytology by entering the University of South California (USC) It was from here that he graduated with an impressive list of honors in the winter of 1966. In 1966, the Valley Presbyterian Hospital sent Diomy to take a Post Graduate Course in Immunohematology at the Ortho Research Foundation with Dr. Philip Levine as a director. To those of you familiar with medical history, Dr. Levine was an internationally renowned researcher in the field of immunohematology and is best known for his discovery of the human Rh red cell antigens.

It was also during 1966 that Diomy wrote a research paper entitled "Blood Bank-O-Gram File" in which he proposed an efficient and standardized approach to maintaining daily blood cross match bookkeeping. Until that time, record keeping was often hazard at best. We have come a very long way with respect to accountability. For this paper, he received the California Association of Medical Laboratory Technologists (CAMLT) Ortho award. Not one to rest on his laurels.

Diomy continued to produce a string of award winning papers. A paper, entitled Factor 1 - Fibrinogen, which won the 1967 CAMLT Warner Chilcott A ward was published in 1968 in the March issue of "The Factor". He continued to cover such diverse topics as the "Investigation of the Behaviour of Polymorphonuclear Neutrophil Leukocytes with Nuclear Sex Chromatin in Pregnant Woman" published in 1969, to "Fibrinolysis Activity" published in "The Factor" in 1970.

Cytology however became his main focus. When asked, Diomy admitted to finding the study of fine needle aspirate the most enjoyable aspect of his cytology work. Daily routine in the early 1970's included both gynecological and non-gynaecological specimens including sputum, gastric wash and ascitic fluids. Often he worked closely with the physicians in the preparation of frozen sections. In the early 1970's there was no limit to the number of slides that the technologists could screen per day. The Hospital seemed to feel that the more work that could be put through, meant a better department. By the early 1980's things started to be more realistic and the number was put at 100 cases per day. By the time Diomy retired in May 1992, the number of slides that could be screened  had decreased to 60 one slide cases or 80 slides in total, if there were some 2 slide cases. There were no automated screening devices utilized. Slides were both stained and read manually. The average age when dysphasia (i.e. CIN-I/LSIL) was detected in the population that Diomy screened was between 24 to 29 years.Squamous cell carcinoma was most frequently encountered.

After retirement Diomy took up painting but with a distinctly lab oriented twist. He paints cell structures. He thought it would be a way to show more people "normal cells in the development womanhood".

In Diomy's personal life there were triumphs and tragedies. His second son Oscar graduated from University of Texas at Lubbock and became an anesthesiologist. He was contaminated with hepatitis C and died following a liver transplant. His youngest son Tony was killed in an automobile accident while returning home from University of California at Berkeley. His oldest son Jorge is an engineer at Los Osos City California.

The End.

Last Updated January 24 2016

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