AS THE SUN SETS OVER UTMB’s Galveston Campus and the majority of employees who work traditional office hours head home for the day, Anthony Azagidi, a polysomnographer in the John Sealy Sleep Lab, prepares to start his next shift at work.
Azagidi, who is more commonly referred to as a sleep technician, is typically scheduled to work from 6:30 p.m. until 8 a.m. three times a week. Alongside two team members, Azagidi conducts sleep studies for a wide variety of patients within the four-bed lab on the 10th floor of the hospital.
“At this location, we can see anyone who needs a sleep study,”
says Azagidi, who mentions that it’s not uncommon for the group to conduct a study for Texas Department of Criminal Justice patients or even pediatric patients as young as 2—a fact that sets them apart from the UTMB sleep labs located in Angleton and Webster.
Despite the differences in patient population, the function of the sleep technician is the same across all UTMB labs, so Azagidi can cover any location when necessary. He does spend the majority of his work time at the Galveston Campus.
On a recent night in John Sealy, Azagidi works to prepare his cart before patients arrive. It’s a part of his routine every shift, stocking up on tools such as cleansing gel, adhesive, sensors and wires he’ll need to perform the night’s studies. Like most nights, all four beds will be occupied, so Azagidi and his team work to have everything ready early.
Used to diagnose and identify what may be causing an individual’s sleep troubles, polysomnography measures and records a person’s brain waves, heart rate, the oxygen level in the blood and breathing patterns, as well as eye and leg movements. A big part of Azagidi’s job is ensuring the 15 sensors each patient has to wear are properly applied and secured on the head, face and legs.
“This part of the process is very important,” says Azagidi. “It’s how we ensure we record accurate readings.”
As Azagidi goes through this part of his routine, he makes sure to carefully describe what he’s doing every step of the way and frequently asks if the patient has any questions or concerns.
The mother of an 8-year-old recent patient greatly appreciated his thoroughness, as did the patient himself, who calmly sat as Azagidi went through the motions of his work. After he’s done with this step, he’ll have the patient run through a series of arm, eye, leg and head movements to get a baseline reading for each sensor.
“It’s so important to explain what the wires do and why you’re placing them where you are,” says Azagidi, who notes that some patients arrive completely unaware of what a sleep study entails.
In addition to keeping patients informed throughout the process, ensuring they are comfortable is another top priority for Azagidi.
“We try to have them follow their regular nighttime routine as closely as possible, so that falling asleep comes easily and naturally,” he explains. “Some folks like to read a book, watch TV or pray. Whatever it is they need, we try to accommodate.”
A team member with the sleep lab for nearly two decades, Azagidi knows the job well.
“He is like the Godfather of sleep,” says Daniel Wiggins, supervisor for polysomnography at UTMB. “He has been here longer than any of us and knows almost everything about the hospital.”
It’s hard to believe, then, that this job was not his first—or even his second—career choice.
Originally from Nigeria, Azagidi had plans to work as an accountant in the U.S. and he did just that shortly after graduating from college. However, a lackluster economy led to his eventual layoff and ultimately a change of plans.
“After losing my job, I was determined to never be in that situation again,” says Azagidi. “So, I explored my options and decided to go back to school to become a respiratory therapist. Health care seemed like a smart choice and I could see myself really loving the job.”
A few years after making that decision, Azagidi had not one but two bachelor’s degrees to his name. He also had a wife who works as a nurse, and the couple had a son and another one on the way. As he and his wife weighed the options they’d have for daycare for not one but two children, Azagidi explored the idea of working nights to allow him to care for his sons during the day.
“Luckily they had an opening in the sleep lab,” says Azagidi. “And I’ve been here ever since. I love my job.”
Besides loving the work and the feeling of fulfillment he gets when he hears someone say they’re finally getting the sleep they need, Azagidi credits the support he’s received from his boss, Denise McElyea, as a big reason he’s stayed at the lab.
“I admire her,” he says. “She’s the best boss and really cares about her team.”
The feelings of respect are mutual, as McElyea has nothing but positive things to say about him, too.
“He really has everyone’s best interests at heart,” says McElyea, director of UTMB Respiratory Care Services and Pulmonary Diagnostics. “He’s always calm and even-keeled and he’s constantly offering his assistance. That makes for a great patient experience.”
Ally Kieng, one of the newest sleep technicians with the Galveston Sleep Lab, echoes McElyea’s sentiments.
“He is always willing to lend a helping hand,” Kieng says of Azagidi. “He’s someone you can always depend on.”
Given the reputation he’s built over the years and his passion for his work, Azagidi knows he’s found the place where he belongs. What’s more, the nontraditional schedule Azagidi keeps does not impact his sleep, as he’s found a routine that works for him and his family.
“On my last night of work for the week, I make myself stay up once I arrive home the following morning so that I can then transition to sleeping at night and being awake during the day until I’m scheduled again,” he says. “Miraculously, I have no issues sleeping, so I see no reason to stop what I’m doing.”