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Retired nurse makes the grade

Cynthia DeSilva kept things hush when she decided to pursue a college degree in 2014.

She wasn't sure her friends would understand why she needed to do it, at age 78.

“They would have said what are you trying to prove,” the retired nurse said. “I really kept it quiet.”

She anticipated it would take about two years to complete the online course with Penn Foster College and get her associate in science degree.

“It wasn't easy,” said Ms DeSilva who graduated on June 26, five years after she started her degree. “There were a lot of re-dos and failures. I had to get several programme extensions.”

For a start, she had to learn to use a computer for the first time.

“If it wasn't for doing this I wouldn't be literate in computers at all,” she said. “When I held that degree in my hands, I couldn't believe my dream had come true. I felt like I had finally achieved. It was a great feeling. One is never too old to learn. Just having a strong desire to pursue what you want to achieve and just keep at it. I am blessed that the Lord left me, in my senior years, some grey matter.”

She couldn't go to the graduation ceremony in Pennsylvania so her daughter, Debbie Williams, put her in cap and gown and did a photo session with her here, at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.

A college degree had always been her goal, but her secondary school education was disrupted by tragedy.

“My father, Henry Richards, went missing right after I started Berkeley,” she said. “A week later, as the Queen of Bermuda was going out, it turned up the waters and brought my father to the surface.”

Her father's death meant her mother, Louisa Richards, had to raise eight children on her own.

“She had to work several jobs as a housekeeper,” Ms DeSilva said. “That meant that because I was the third child, a lot of responsibility fell on me. I became like a second mother to my younger siblings. I managed to stay at Berkeley for five years but it was very, very hard. It was a struggle.”

In the end she wasn't able to officially graduate because she needed to pass five courses to get her Cambridge certificate and she only passed three.

She married and had three children — Ms Williams, Earlston Jr and Jonathan DeSilva — before she and her husband divorced.

In the 1970s she was working as a receptionist at Dunkley's Dairy when she saw an advertisement in The Royal Gazette about a two-year nursing course.

“After reading a book about Florence Nightingale I decided that I really wanted to be a nurse,” she said.

Nursing was everything she'd hoped it would be.

“It turned out to be my calling,” Ms DeSilva said. “I just wished I'd started sooner.”

She especially loved working with older people, and spent more than 25 years in the Extended Care Unit at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

One of her proudest moments was taking a group from the ECU to Disney World in 1993.

“Most of them were in wheelchairs,” she said. “I did have three people helping me, but it was a lot of responsibility. It was the first time in Disney World for most of them.”

She retired in 1996, but then became a home healthcare nurse for several years.

“I always went over my 100 per cent to make sure I had done the best for my client,” she said. “What I liked about nursing was the fact that you can care for someone. When I was doing wound care in home healthcare, you would see a person with a gaping wound. To see that come to close and heal was very satisfying.”

Ms DeSilva also loved to write. For 12 years she wrote Health Watch, a column for the Mid-Ocean News.

In 2004, she received the Queen's Badge of Honour for her work as a nurse.

The 82-year-old isn't done yet. With newly acquired knowledge in hand, she's considering offering free clinics to help people with high blood pressure and diabetes.

“I want to encourage them to check their blood pressure regularly,” she said.

“I do mine every day. I don't take any chances. I feel every home should have a blood pressure monitor. High blood pressure is a silent killer, because you don't feel sick. As far as people who are diabetics I will encourage people in the community make sure their readings are in the correct range.

“If I can help someone to stave off a stroke or even [stop them from losing] a limb if they are diabetic, save their sight or save their kidneys, I will,” she said.

Lifestyle profiles the island's senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

Top marks: Retired nurse Cynthia DeSilva realised a dream last July when she earned her associate's degree (Photograph supplied).

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Published January 21, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated January 22, 2020 at 2:09 pm)

Retired nurse makes the grade

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