Veterans get free genetic testing at Sanford Health

Pharmacogenomics test improves medication accuracy for Air Force veteran

A mature man in hunter orange gear poses for a selfie with his gun and dog.

An Air Force veteran and engineer for 30 years at a local television station in Appleton, Minnesota, Rob Rakow is right at the beginning of a restful retirement. Or so he thought.

“I’ve been working nonstop doing stuff,” Rakow, who retired in August, joked. “Splitting wood. I’ve been working on my camper.

“Feels like I haven’t stopped. I haven’t taken a day off. I’ll put it that way.”

At 62 and active as ever, the former Airman who worked on F-111s says he’s never been this sore in his life.

In addition to general muscle aches, the hunter and amateur photographer says he takes a handful of medications to stay healthy and happy.

“I have a lot of nerve pain. Some are for that. Mental illness. Cholesterol,” Rakow said.

To learn more about how his body responds to specific medications, Rakow signed up for pharmacogenomics testing through Sanford Health. Thanks to his veteran status, he was able to receive the testing for free.

“At the time, I was on 10 or 11 different medications,” Rakow said. “I just thought, ‘Why not?’ Might find something out that I didn’t know.”

Much of what he found out will help his future self and his doctor. Rakow is responding just fine to his current prescriptions.

Reducing medication trial and error

All veterans are currently able to receive pharmacogenomics testing for free at Sanford Health.

Jennifer Morgan, CNP, DNP, with the Pharmacogenomics Clinic at Sanford Imagenetics in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, encourages those with military backgrounds to take advantage of the program.

“I think we’re all just very grateful for their service and all the sacrifices they have made for everyone in America. This is one small way we can hopefully give back,” Morgan said.

Morgan adds the test is “very easy to do. It’s just a simple blood draw. It takes about two weeks to get the information back.”

Everyone can benefit from genetic testing but especially those with a history of experiencing medication side effects.

“We see it a lot,” Morgan said. “They’ve just tried several medications and just have not found the best fit. They’re looking for some insight into maybe why those didn’t work and what they should try going forward.”

‘Pharmacogenomics is really exciting’

The blood test looks at certain genes and is currently an 11-gene panel. Morgan says her team looks to see if there’s a change in a person’s genes that could affect how they process medication.

Several other factors are also considered, according to Morgan, such as gender, age, weight, other chronic conditions, other medications you’re taking, and more.

Results can help guide patients and their doctors on future medication selection and dosing. Testing gives patients an opportunity to get even more personalized care. Blood samples are analyzed right at Sanford Imagenetics.

“The best place always to start is with your primary care provider,” Morgan said about asking for the test.

“I think pharmacogenomics is really exciting. We currently have information on some medications, not all. The research is ongoing and we’re learning new things all the time.”

‘It makes you feel good’

What isn’t new is Sanford Health’s drive to be a provider and employer of choice for veterans.

“Never before have I ever really been thanked,” Rakow said about receiving the free test. “Not that I’m out looking for people to thank me but it’s really one of the very first times I felt like, oh, this is generous of them.”

“I thought that was just awesome. A company, that they appreciate veterans and respect our service, it makes you feel good.”

Veterans who have received the previous Sanford Chip test already have their genetic testing results and do not need to test again.

Pharmacogenomics testing does not screen for a patient’s risk for certain diseases.

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Posted In Genetics, Internal Medicine, Veterans