Salone News

Meet the Amazing Martha Lewis

By  | 6 April 2012 at 02:26 | 682 views

Martha Lewis, pictured, is a 26 year-old Sierra Leonean who witnessed the ugliness of demonic forces during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Through divine influence she escaped to neighboring Guinea, from where she made it abroad, and eventually landed in the United States, where the doors of opportunity began to open up for her. I interviewed Martha about her passionate vision, and impressive and prestigious research she’s currently undertaking. Here are extracts from that interview:

Roland Bankole Marke: Thanks for honoring my request and your time. Briefly introduce yourself to our readers, walking us through your journey to the United States.

Martha Lewis: It’s my pleasure, Roland. My name is Martha Lewis and I was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I am a survivor of the civil war in Sierra Leone. I was fortunate to escape to Guinea from where I migrated to Germany, after several months of being a refugee in Conakry, the capital city. During the civil war, like many other Sierra Leoneans, I watched countless people raped, amputated and killed. After witnessing these heinous crimes, I decided to dedicate my life to medicine and biomedical research. After relocating to Germany, my twin sister Mary and I encountered fresh challenges. We had to overcome the language barrier for us to live a normal life. Considering that I was very young, I faced the obstacles squarely, and learnt the language within six months. Starting high school in Germany, I realized that there were only four black students out of 1000 students. I quickly joined the track and field team and other clubs, maintained good academic grades as well as taking part in many activities like singing, dancing and playing basketball.

RM: Educate us about your experience from Germany to US and how you ended up becoming a Pre-med student at Long Island University, New York.

ML: After graduating from high school, I nursed a passion to pursue a medical career. So I moved to the United States in 2005. My journey to America was challenging, but I never gave up and always kept my eyes on the finish line (MD). After staying with one of my sisters, she finally told us to move out, only six months after living with her in Bronx, NYC. We were shocked, filled with disbelief and not knowing who or where to turn to for a place to stay. A friend offered to take us in and within a month we found an apartment in Brooklyn. The journey continued; while putting my immigration papers together, I couldn’t start school and needed a fast solution badly. Eventually, I received great news regarding my immigration status in 2007. I started college the following school year at a private college in Queens and I completed my Associate degree, graduating SUMA-Cum-Laude, at the top of my class. I enrolled at Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus in 2010. At LIU, I am a member of a Minority Biomedical Research Support-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS/RISE) which is directed by Dr. Anthony DePass, as well as being a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society and the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society and made the Dean’s list. My twin sister Mary is currently an undergraduate student at CUNY School, New York. She is also working as a dental hygienist and she wants to become a dentist.

RM: Bacteria both good and bad ones have always thrived among us. What is responsible for the adaptation and growing strong resistance and the need for more advanced studies in this area?

ML: Since the beginning of my college career, I’ve dreamed of becoming a physician-scientist (MD/PhD). I will have to complete 4 years of medical school and then 3 years of PhD. This will enable me to practice medicine and do research. My research will focus on Molecular and Cellular Biology in regards to pathogenic diseases. In addition, I will conduct my residence as Emergency Physician which is an additional 3 years. To further my interests, I am currently investigating at my home institution (Long Island University) how Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes resistance to antibiotics that are used to treat infections within healthcare settings. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a human pathogen causing a variety of sicknesses such as eye infection, lungs infection, blood infection, and skin infection. This bacterium causes nosocomial infection which is hospital-acquired. It can be identified within 48 to 72 hours of admission. It mostly affects patients who are already very sick. Those with Cystic Fibrosis, Leukemia, HIV or burn victims are usually at risk of getting this bacterium. Given the fact that this bacterium is gram-negative, it is extremely resistant to antibiotics, but treatment is tough due to multi-drug resistance. So, I use Polyamine (Spermidine and Spermine) which are cationic compounds and are known for enhancing antibiotic susceptibility. My results indicated that Polyamines are non-toxic on growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and meaningfully improved beta lactam susceptibility. Also, these results proposed polyamines could be used to treat multi-drug resistant P. aeruginosa infections in mixture with current beta lactam antibiotics.
RM: Please explain to our readers, mostly Africans, about this important research on drug resistance bacteria, scheduled to be delivered at a major conference in California.

ML: The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) has asked that my research be featured in its releases to the mainstream media at the annual meeting in San Diego as part of the experimental biology meeting with about 15,000 attendees. Also, I will be presenting at the Experimental Biology Conference in California in April, 2012. Over the course of my undergraduate career, I have sharpened my research skills under the excellent mentorship of my advisor Dr. Don Kwon that has enabled me to present my work at various scientific meetings. I presented my previous research work at the MBRS-RISE research presentation day last October, 2011. In addition, I presented at the CONY Alliance for Graduate Education and Professoriate (AGEP) and at LIU Discovery Day in March, 2012. Summer 2012, I will be participating at a summer undergraduate research program at Penn State Medical School for 10 weeks. I mentioned all these great things that are now happening to me to attest that even though I am from a former war torn country, I made the transformation in achieving a good education. I did not use the civil war as an excuse to stall my vision. Despite the hard work that I have to do on a daily basis, I still find time to relax and enjoy myself. I love to work-out. I train at least 3 to 5 days per week because training relaxes my mind, body and stimulates my blood vessels. After a long day, I look forward to enjoying some weekends with my friends.

RM: How will Sierra Leone benefit from your research and top notch medical and biomedical training?

ML: My ultimate goal is to gain a respectable training then return home to Sierra Leone with a passion to educate my people. I intend to graduate LIU, Suma-Cum-Laude and begin medical school. So yes, Sierra Leoneans will benefit from my research because it will provide awareness on how best to prevent infectious diseases, and not to use the idea of injecting antibiotics for every little illness. Too much intake of antibiotics will build up the resistant strength of bacterium. Therefore, creating consciousness of less usage will save many lives in Sierra Leone and around the world. My experiment will help treat patients with multi-drugs resistant bacterium. Instead of doctors using higher dosage of antibiotics, they can use lesser dose in conjunction with polyamines to cure people with pseudomonas aeruginosa. The long term goal of my study is to understand the molecular details of the polyamine effect on beta-lactam susceptibility in bacteria pathogens that will in turn, provide the basis for designing a new therapeutic agent or strategy to treat multi-drug resistant P. aeruginosa infections. My research allows me to grasp a deeper understanding of medicine through scientific discovery. Gaining the knowledge necessary to create new treatment methods will benefit the entire world. My ultimate goal is to develop a respectable training and then return home to Sierra Leone, hoping to educate my people. I intend to graduate with honors and begin medical school.

RM: What advice would you give to the youth of Sierra Leone and around the world?

ML: My advice to the youth of Sierra Leone and around the world, or to those who are confronted with difficulties, are for them not to give up on their dreams. Life can be a beautiful thing regardless of the obstacles one might encounter. My sister and I are perfect examples of reaching toward our dreams. We work very hard to maintain good grades and I shuttle between two jobs so that I can support my family back home and have a decent life in Brooklyn. So work hard and have a clear perspective of what you want to achieve in life. Motivation is the central driver, and follow through on it. Appreciating the value of education is the key to success, providing practical motivation for everyone. One has to focus on the purpose of a dream and still maintain a normal schedule. The key to reaching for our dreams is having a clear perspective, and knowing when to party and when to focus on your studies. It’s a long and hard task that I have set for myself. But believing in accomplishing it is the ultimate gift of life. For failing to heal the wounds of the past makes it very hard to stop the bleeding. Hard work pays off. It might take a long time but don’t ever give up on your dreams. Indeed, God is great.

Martha Lewis in a more relaxed atmosphere.