Using Research to Make a Difference In People's Lives

September 29, 2016 John Dominic

WAS author story image.jpgAs part of our #becauseofyou campaign, we’ve been celebrating the amazing work carried out every day by authors, researchers, reviewers and editors. In this, our third story of inspiration, John Dominic, an early career researcher at India’s Manipal Institute of Technology, tells us how he followed his dreams.

Many of us have a story that we’ve never shared with anybody, but which could prove inspiring if we took the time to share it. Instead, we keep it to ourselves and it dies with us. I want to tell you my story in the hopes that it may prove inspirational.

When I was 8 years old, my teacher asked me what I wished to become when I grew up. I told her that I wished to become a scientist and save people’s lives. My teacher said that I must become a doctor to do that. I replied to her that a doctor may cure the disease, but I wanted to instead become a scientist to prevent disease. I always imagined myself as a scientist and I would even write my name as Dr. John Dominic on my book covers when I was a boy. I knew that I would be that man someday.

As I grew older, my dreams began to fade. Many were successful in convincing me that I was nothing. During 2008 I was infected with typhoid. I ignored it for more than 10 days. I became very sick and weak. I knew I was going to die. I was in hospital for a week before I was finally out of danger. But, I was aware that it was a close call. I stayed at home for nearly 3 weeks before I resumed college. That three weeks changed my life completely. I spent the time at home doing absolutely nothing. I could not go out because I was very weak. Spending most of my time in bed, I began to see life in a totally different way and I realized that it all could be gone in a second.

During those three weeks, I began to reflect on my childhood. As a child, I was so passionate about everything. I used to talk to animals and would always bring animals back home. I would carefully watch spiders weaving their webs. Every living and non-living thing that I came across was good at something, which amazed me and raised a question in my mind: What is it that I am good at? Certainly there should be something which I must be good at. Is that something I’ve forgotten? Or, is that something which I buried within myself? What holds me back from doing what I love to do? Have I missed something? Questions like that are very hard to answer. Whenever I go to bed, there’s a short period before I fall asleep and that’s the time I ask myself those questions. Most of us have this feeling, although we often ignore it.

It was at that time I decided to follow my dreams and my passion. After all, I was on my deathbed and what could be worse than that? We all die someday and there is no point in living a life with outside voices in our heads telling us what to do. I realized that I must cut off the cables which others attached to control me. It wasn’t so easy to do that. It requires courage. Real courage. I call it enlightenment. You see things which others don’t. You can’t explain the feeling and even if you could, nobody would understand you. The only person who can completely understand you is YOU. You need to be with those who can actually understand your dreams and care about them.

After I recovered completely from my illness, I went back to university. I became more aware of the social problems around me. Public health challenges were something which bothered me a lot. There are many people in my region with families to look after who earn $2-4 per day. Most of them are laborers on farms or at construction sites. They often get injured or sick and medical facilities are too expensive. I have also seen people sell everything they have to afford medical care for loved ones. Despite this, many who had nothing had to watch their loved ones die slowly. I had seen both these cases. I say to myself every day, "Many people become sick or die and most of them don't have to." There must be something I can do to help them. At least some of them.

In 2009 I started carrying out infectious disease research. Soon I began to understand the bigger picture. Pathogenic microbes are evolving into superbugs. I began to focus more on preventing nosocomial infections which are killing many people. In India, we say that one must catch hold of the mad dog instead of bandaging the victims. That’s exactly what I began to focus on. In 2011, I registered for a PhD at Manipal University, where I began to design and develop polymeric materials to combat the drug-resistant microbes. My idea is to develop disinfectants and materials that can neutralize the drug-resistant microbes at hospitals and other public places.

As I said, we need to be with those who understand our dreams. My family always supported my dream. I thank all those who believed in me and I promise that I will never let you down.

John Dominic is a research scholar at Manipal Institute of Technology in Manipal, India.

Read more stories of inspiration from researchers here.

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