St. Jude doctor keeps mission in mind

A lot of people change majors in college.  We met a man who traded in his jazz trumpet for a petri dish, and he’s still pretty cool.  

At some point when was studying music at Duke University, Michael Johnson decided instead of being the next Winton Marsalis, he wanted to do something else.  He’s now Dr. Michael Johnson, and he studies streptococcus pneumonia.

“How these particular bacteria tick so that we can kid of pick apart some of the processes that they need to survive and exploit those as drug targets,” Johnson says. 

Streptococcus is seemingly everywhere and has been for quite a while, which makes it almost boring to the general public. Johnson finds it amusing when people get infatuated with the latest mystery illness.

“You look at social media, and there’s this article, this article, this article. And it’s like ‘What about the forgotten infections?’" Johnson says. "Well, they really shouldn’t be forgotten. They still are very prevalent."

"There are almost two million kids that die…from pneumonia every year, and about half of those are caused by streptococcus," he continued. "And that’s world-wide. That’s not necessarily something we see here because we have a lot more antibiotics and a lot more treatments.”

Johnson says he never loses sight of his mission at St. Jude because he’s more than a scientist. He’s a dad.

“We say ‘finding cures, saving children,’ and the truth of the matter is it’s not just the children here. It’s my children at home. I’m a parent, I have two kids, and, God forbid something happens to them, the stuff that I work on on lab could help take care of them," Johnson says. "But it’s everyone’s children. It’s everyone’s parents. The things that we come up with here, we make available to the public.”

Available to the world, as well. St. Jude shares all its research freely with hospitals and laboratories all over the world.