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Cytotechnologist Aims to Merge Passions for Teaching and Painting

By Irvin B. Harrell

When Deborah Krzyzaniak isn't teaching cytotechnology at the College of Health Sciences, she is bringing life to the canvas as a professional artist.

In fact, she was the featured artist in October of last year at the Charleston (S.C.) Artist Guild Gallery. Her exhibit, "Come as a Tourist, Leave as a Local," focused on things to see and do in Charleston from a native perspective.

Krzyzaniak, who took the reins of the college's cytotechnology program last fall, now is looking for ways to merge her passions for teaching and painting.

"What if I start creating paintings of cells and target all the pathologists in the United States," she said. "I could sell them, they would want to hang them in their offices, and I would raise money for the program here."

Krzyzaniak says she is also pursuing the possibility of doing something with cancer patients and art therapy. Right now, though, she's still settling in at Old Dominion, where she first tried her hand at teaching.

Born in rural South Carolina, Krzyzaniak grew up in a family that lived from paycheck to paycheck. Her parents were focused more on making ends meet than pushing higher education.

"One time we had chicken necks for dinner," she said. "I asked my mom, 'What is that?' She said, 'It's chicken necks; there's a little bit of meat on there.

"I never remembered being hungry," Krzyaniak added, "but I said to myself that I didn't want to be in such a situation down the road. I wanted to get an education and have options."

And so, the first-generation college student scrambled to find a way. To cover bills, she sometimes worked two or three jobs. First she attended the College of Charleston. In 1984 she transferred to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston, where she graduated the following year with a Bachelor of Science in Cytotechnology. After graduation, Krzyzaniak worked for several years at MUSC as a full-time cytotechnologist in its Department of Pathology.

"I was fascinated with cells, and wanted to do something to help people," she said of her choice in major. "I love science, but I was also looking for something stable."

Krzyzaniak moved to Norfolk in 1990, working at Sentara Healthcare while studying for her master's at ODU. While at ODU, she spoke to cytotechnology program director Kay Wells and inquired about teaching. Wells told her there wasn't any extra money for adjuncts.

"I told Kay she didn't have to pay me; I'd do it for free," she said. "I told her that if you like me, and next year if you have some money, then you can hire me."

Wells allowed her to teach a thyroid class. In the fall of 1992, Krzyzaniak left Sentara to teach full time and take over the job as Cytotechnology Program Director and Educational Coordinator at ODU.

Krzyzaniak received a Master's of Science in Medical Laboratory Science in 1994 and moved to Louisiana in 1995 where she started the first cytotechnology program in the state at Terrebonne General Medical Center in Houma. Also while in Louisiana she and her husband started a family, and she had two children. Krzyzaniak decided to take several years off to raise them and started painting in 2000, when her children started school. She has been painting ever since.

"I absolutely love being outdoors, especially hiking in the mountains or being on the ocean," she said. "Painting gave me a way to capture the relaxing feeling I got from being close to nature."

In the mid-2000s, Krzyzaniak moved to Charlotte, N.C., and taught cytotechnology part-time at Central Piedmont Community College. In 2007, the Medical University of South Carolina offered her a full-time job as technologist and she worked there for eight years.

Krzyzaniak received a call from ODU in May, 2016, about the cytotechnology program director position.

"I felt like I had a calling," she said. "And my kids said, 'You have to do this.'"

Between her new job at ODU, her art and her family, Krzyzaniak says she still trying to find the perfect balance. Regardless, she says that her choice to return to ODU was the right decision.

"When I think about the students and why I'm here, I love my job," she said. "Some students can be a bit immature and text me on Sunday morning at 9 o'clock, but I love it. I can't describe it. I feel like I have to be here."

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