Stanford lab tech's journey from Africa to COVID-19 front lines

"Before I accepted this job, there was no COVID. So I think God was just preparing me to be able to come to Stanford and to be able to help."

Video Transcript

- There are so many heroes working behind the scenes in this pandemic, and learning what drives them can be an inspiring journey. In the case of the man you are about to meet, that journey literally stretches halfway around the world.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

OBADIAH MFUH KENJI: (SINGING) Even the night will not shake us.

- Obadiah Kenji is driven by faith. Whether he's singing with his family in church or searching for lifesaving clues in a virology lab at Stanford.

OBADIAH MFUH KENJI: Put it to about, let's say, nine.

- In many ways, they're stops on the same journey. Kenji, as his colleagues call him, grew up in Cameroon, the son of a minister with dreams of someday studying at Stanford.

OBADIAH MFUH KENJI: You know, every young ambitious man in Cameroon has those dreams, but you know what? My dad did not even own a credit card, could even pay for my application fee as a student.

- So, he embarked on a long journey, literally studying at stops around the world. The hard work earned him a PhD and a lucrative career path in biotech, but he says he applied to Stanford's clinical virology lab for a chance to help patients. Weeks later, the COVID crisis hit.

OBADIAH MFUH KENJI: Before I accepted this position, there was no COVID. So, I think God was just preparing me, you know, to be able to come to Stanford and be able to help, you know, humankind to slow down this pandemic.

- And the help Kenji and his colleagues provide is critical. He says, the lab has tested hundreds of thousands of samples so far, and it's at the epicenter of the ongoing search for new variants of COVID-19. Dr. Benjamin Pinsky directs the effort.

BENJAMIN PINSKY: We're doing this variant detection and are among the first in the country to identify a number of these variants.

- Kenji says the Stanford lab is rich in talent, in part because of its diversity, employing technicians with a wide variety of backgrounds. He says, 12-hour days are not uncommon, but the team is driven by a sense of mission.

OBADIAH MFUH KENJI: When I look at the impact that we are having in the lives of the patients, the impact that we are having to slow down the curve, or slow down this pandemic, that gives me a lot of fulfillment.

- And at the end of a long day, he says, he often returns to the refuge he's enjoyed his entire life, spirituality and music.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

OBADIAH MFUH KENJI: (SINGING) [INAUDIBLE]

- Oh, he's not only remarkable, so accomplished, but he also sounds pretty good, doesn't he? Now, besides singing in church, Kenji has also tried his hand at pop music as well, and has even starred in his very own music video. That will be fun to see, Dan.

DAN NOYES: Yeah, what a zest for life and a sense of compassion and giving. What a remarkable man. Thanks for sharing that, [INAUDIBLE].