By Ruth SoRelle, M.P.H.
In 1998, when I left the Houston Chronicle to come to work at Baylor College of Medicine, I never considered that I would stay this long. I had worked in daily journalism for more than 20 years, covering the news as the medical writer and I loved it. No one day was like the previous, and each offered challenges.
Perhaps the toughest challenge is to sit down at a blank computer screen, and attempt to put 20 or 30 pages of notes into a rational order and tell a story. Yet, I had done that for 20 years at the Chronicle, covering the AIDS epidemic as it ramped up and then continued to smolder while those who carried the virus smothered it with highly active therapy to tamp down the virus. I had watched changes in health care delivery that gained widespread acceptance and then fell apart as the competing demands of profit and people’s health clashed. I saw scientists on the cusp of changing health care, and I cheered their intellect and the courage of the patients who went with them into that brave world.
I did not leave because I was bored or because there were no more stories to write. Like the late Pete Seeger, I believe that “to everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season.”
I had spent decades on the outside looking in, critiquing decisions, but never taking part in the them. A good journalist observes and never takes a stand. I was over 50 before I had a bumper sticker on my car or an election sign in my front yard.
I came to Baylor to take part in something, to try to help improve something that was already good. In doing so, I became part of something bigger than me that at the same time did not forget me.
During the past 17 years, I have watched the research component of Baylor College of Medicine grow and mature. Researchers like Dr. Huda Zoghbi, Dr. Bert O’Malley and Dr. Richard Gibbs, all of whom I met before I left the Chronicle, began to make major inroads in their designated fields. Our understanding of the cell and how it works became more and more intricate as scientists unraveled its mysteries. Other, like Dr. Susan Rosenberg, challenged established thought and changed the way we saw mutation and its effect on evolution and cancer.
In the laboratories, researchers use a host of model organisms, from mice to fruit flies to worms, to study health and disease. Dr. Hugo Bellen looks at the intricacies of neurons and how the communicate in the tiny bodies of fruit flies. He has even built “toolkits” to help other researchers use this small but important insect in their work.
High above the Texas Medical Center, Dr. Richard Gibbs and his team in the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center were among the three national centers to lead completion of the sequence of the human genome, and they have gone on sequence a number of organisms, peoples and races. Somewhere in our genetic background are the clues to who we are or could be.
In Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center, both basic and clinical scientists are looking for ways to improve cancer treatment and care, and in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor, Houston Methodist and Texas Children’s Hospitals, new treatments marshaling potent immune system cells promise to improve survival in some of the most difficult diseases.
And the numbers go on and on.
Recently, some of those friends and some of those centers played a crucial role in my own life, and I am forever grateful for the people of Baylor, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and others across the Texas Medical Center who collaborated to keep me alive. It was a frightening time, and it was their caring as much as their expertise that allowed me to go on.
Now, however, the season has turned. I’m past the usual age of retirement, I have a delicious new grandson and I want some time when I still have health and vigor to enjoy him and life. There are books I’ve wanted to write and trips I want to take and relaxation I want to enjoy. I am retiring from Baylor and going home. Turn, turn, turn.