Nine dreams and counting: A nurse’s makeover

From the Spring 2010 issue of MedmagWhen Robert Kennedy said that some “see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’” he also could have been talking about Bebe Sylla—she has always dreamed big and asked, “Why not?”

In her teens, she left the only home she had ever known—in Conakry, the capital of Guinea and an island unto itself—to pursue her education. Leaving wasn’t easy. “It was so very beautiful back then, and I loved it so much,” says Sylla, who nevertheless persevered. Off she went, all alone, to Germany to study business administration—call that dream #1. Three years later, an uncle living in Columbia, Mo., invited her to move to the United States, and Sylla jumped at the chance—dream #2. In the six months she was in the Midwest, she mastered English (now one of five languages she speaks fluently), then moved to Texas so she could attend Prairie View A&M University to continue her business studies.

That might have been enough dreaming for most people, but not for Sylla. Dream #3 came to her during a visit to her homeland in the summer of 1997. “Every year there’s an outbreak of cholera, and that year it was particularly bad,” she recalls. “I got sick and my mom immediately thought it was cholera. She took me to a clinic, and what I saw there changed my whole perspective on what I wanted to do with my life. I knew then I had to become a nurse.”

Back in Texas, Sylla changed her major to nursing, took all of the prerequisites and enrolled in nursing school in Houston, where she immediately started working at University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Marriage and motherhood (she has a son, who’s now 10, and a daughter, age 6) took her away from nursing for a while, but true to her heart’s desire, Sylla eventually got her LVM, RN and BSN degrees. Count those collectively as dream #4.

“I walked through the doors of the oncology unit at M. D. Anderson during nursing school and I never left,” she says. “Here, the patients’ treatments are complex, and every day you see something new and you learn more. It’s very stimulating and challenging. I have everything I want from my job.” Dream #5.