A swath of coppery hair sits over John Spencer’s left eye like a shutter protecting a window to somewhere interesting. He shifts in his chair and his blue eyes glisten with memories and the emotion of a life’s work well spent and a desire to keep going.
Spencer spends nearly six months of every year in the Amazon region of Brazil working to end the stigma associated with leprosy and to help those infected understand, manage, and defeat the disease.
A researcher and associate professor of microbiology at Colorado State University, Spencer recently reflected on the 15 years he has spent studying M. leprae, the tiny bacterium that causes leprosy.
He hopes that within 75 years, leprosy cases in the Amazon region will fall from the current five per 10,000 people to less than one. That’s why he does what he does. He believes that with a commitment to whole health — focusing on education, nutrition, sanitation, and improved living conditions — Brazil and the world will see leprosy, and many other tropical diseases, decline and overall health of people improve.
A life-changing lunch
Sometimes the random person you meet at a lunch becomes a research partner and great friend. Spencer met Dr. Claudio Salgado in 2010 at a meeting in Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil.