UNCC researcher dies after battling the disease he studied

Joshua Stokell in the lab at UNC Charlotte.
Joshua Stokell in the lab at UNC Charlotte. COURTESY OF BUSHRA KHAN

A UNC Charlotte researcher who studied his own lifelong affliction, cystic fibrosis, died of complications of the disease last week.

Joshua Stokell, a UNC Charlotte post-doctoral fellow, was the subject of an Observer article last month. He was 36.

As part of his master’s program at UNC Charlotte, Stokell started a research project into cystic fibrosis that studied the bacteria in his lungs. He added to that recently by studying results from adolescent patients, courtesy of a National Institutes of Health grant.

“I have the capability to help others through my work,” Stokell said in the article. “That’s what really drives me the most.”

Friends and family had been raising money through the Children’s Organ Transplant Association to pay his out-of-pocket costs for a double lung transplant.

Stokell completed his doctorate in microbiology in 2013 and worked as a post-doctoral fellow, dedicating his studies to cystic fibrosis, UNCC said.

He was the lead author on a recent article in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology in which he was both researcher and study subject.

The study found that the sudden growth of a specific bacterium preceded bouts of acute illness among cystic fibrosis patients. A second common, but more abundant, pathogen found in the lungs of patients did not show significant changes before the life-threatening episodes.

Because it provided unparalleled access to Stokell’s life history and medical records, UNCC said, the study was the most intensive sampling of a single cystic fibrosis patient to date.

“All of the facts about Josh’s academic career describe someone who was on track to become a successful academician. However, they don’t tell you the kind of person Josh was,” said Todd Steck, Stokell’s mentor at UNCC.

“What I can tell you is that Josh was easy to like. He was generous with his time and was a good listener. He didn’t yell or complain, he just smiled. It was as if he accepted each day as a gift that he wasn’t going to waste.”

Stokell was born May 13, 1979, in New Port Richey, Fla., the son of Judy Stokell-Bailey and Thomas W. Stokell. He lived in Sweetser, Ind., and the Asheville area before moving to Charlotte.

He is survived by his parents, three brothers, two sisters, maternal grandparents and girlfriend, Bushra Khan of Charlotte.

Want to help?

The Association of Biology Graduate Students at UNC Charlotte is collecting contributions to assist Stokell’s family with his final expenses. Checks can be made payable to ABGS with “Josh Memorial” as the memo and can be mailed to: Department of Biological Sciences, 257, Attention: ABGS, Woodward Hall, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte, NC 28223.

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