Kashi Clinical Laboratories opened its doors in 2006 with an unfailing commitment to providing healthcare professionals and patients with the highest standard of excellence in testing. Kashi Lab's 10-year evolution from a one-woman shop to a fully accredited laboratory is captured in this commentary by Chief Executive Officer and Laboratory Director, Zahra Mehdizadeh Kashi, PhD, HCLD.
Tell me about the beginning when you started the lab. Why did you start with transplant-related genetic testing? I am sure it had something to do with familiarity, but was there more?
Dr. Kashi: Familiarity with transplant-related genetic testing was definitely one factor in my initial focus. But it was not the only factor. I always like to be different and my courage rises with anything that intimidates me. Challenge makes me want to go for it! (giggling). The genetic world, despite its advancements in the last decade, is still a somewhat ambiguous field to many, and I love that! I love to be able to be a piece of the puzzle solver for clinicians.
What sort of obstacles did you have to overcome when you started the lab?
Dr. Kashi: Oh, man, it was tough! Dark. Very scary. Very lonely for a long time. Very, very lonely. I was a brand new business. I had to teach myself to be a lawyer, business guru, technologist, lab director. During the day, I was running to outfit the lab, and at night I was developing web content. I was blessed with very good friends. Beth Zentzis designed the website and took photographs for free. Then, of course, we wanted to buy equipment or reagent and everybody would request cash. We were a brand new business with little support, so it was a Catch-22 for a long time. A month-and-a-half after Kashi opened, Jason joined me. He came to me and said, "I got a couple of hands you know." That was his opening and he just walked in. He worked free of salary for many months, trying to convince manufacturers to let us buy reagents on credit.
The darkest part of that year came when my mother died. My mom was a symbol of everything to me. In fact, she is still on the board of directors and she has been dead for 10 years now. My mother was a symbol of everything to me. To make matters worse, I came back from my mother's funeral only to find my husband in brain surgery at the hospital. I walked back into the lab, with a dead mom, very depressed, husband who is in the hospital, completely broke, a lab half put together, zero paid staff members. It was bad.
Probably the worst and best year of my life was 2006. It was the beginning of a profession that has turned into the pride of my lifetime (besides the birth of my daughter), and really one of the worst years because I was very broke, and very broken-hearted. Isn't that ironic?
What about the testing drives you, and gives you joy? And honestly keeps you staying here for 70+ hours a week?
Dr. Kashi: Inherently, I have found about me, good or bad, that I want to solve problems.
The tests that we do can solve giant emotional problems for a mom, spouse, sibling, boyfriend ... you name it. And I am not God so I would be lying if I said we are saving lives with our testing. But the moment we find an HLA match, the moment we find a mutation for cancer, the moment we find a health solution for the person who calls and says, "I have done everything there is to be done could you please help?", the moment we hear from the mother of a child who has hit bottom in the drug world - we know we are making a difference. Do you know what these stories do to a person whose natural propensity is to want to solve? All the sudden it puts me on that tearful moment of wanting to help in solving their problems. That is the part of the testing that drives me.
What are you most amazed by today?
Dr. Kashi: Every single one of the people in this lab amazes me! I am amazed at the strengths that every one of our team brings to the table and how vastly those strengths of each one masks the weakness of the other. Collectively, it makes our team to be what the pride of this laboratory as long as we are who we are. That is amazing!
What do you want your clients to know about you and Kashi's commitment to healthcare?
Dr. Kashi: I will never, ever, let them down. Never.