The Promise Keeper

His family torn apart by war and tragedy, Vehid Basic fulfills his brother’s dying wish by earning his nurse practitioner degree

Vehid Basic never got the chance to celebrate his graduation from college 25 years ago. 

And if anyone deserves a party, it’s him.

Vehid Basic at graduation

Inspired by brother’s memory, Vehid Basic walks across the stage at Eastman Theatre to receive his NP degree.

Basic had dreamed of going to college since he was a young boy growing up in Bosnia. His father had abandoned his family when he was just 7 years old, and Basic hoped to become a history teacher to support his mother and siblings. 

Without much money to his name, Basic put himself through college by working at a shoe factory and traveling 80 miles by bus, every day, to his classes. 

“It was very, very difficult, but I kept going,” said Basic. “Finally, on the day of my final exam and graduation, I felt like I had made it.”

Basic’s feeling of triumph quickly turned into one of panic. On his way home from graduation with his new wife, Cecilija, they passed by trucks carrying hundreds of soldiers, who were forcing their way into towns and blocking off roads.   

“I knew then that the war was about to start,” said Basic. “As soon as we got home, one of my friends came over. He was a Serb, so he was supposed to be my enemy. But he warned me that his side was going to attack our town that night. He told us to leave.”

Basic and his wife packed up their belongings and attempted to escape through the one road to Croatia that remained open. But by the time they got there, military forces had set up a barricade. They demanded to know where the couple was headed, and when they weren’t satisfied with Basic’s reply, they put a gun to his head.

“When I have nightmares about the war, that’s what they’re about — that cold gun on my skin,” said Basic. “Eventually, they let us pass, but as soon as we started driving away, they started shooting at us.”

Basic and his wife avoided the gunshots, along with countless other explosions and dangers, before making it to the bridge that would take them to safety.

Vehid Basic and his family in Croatia

Vehid Basic and his family in Croatia, a half hour before they embarked on their move to the U.S.

Basic was right; the Bosnian War was beginning. The conflict would last nearly four years and leave more than 100,000 people dead.

In Croatia, Basic found refuge living with Cecilija’s parents and 20 other members of her family in a small home. They were safe, but he didn’t know where his mother and siblings were, or if they were still alive.

Three years passed, and still, he hadn’t heard any news.

“Then, I finally received a call from a refugee advocacy agency,” said Basic. “They told me that my mother, brother, and sister were all OK, and that they were living in the United States in a small city in New York: Rochester.”

After months of waiting for the necessary paperwork and approvals, Basic, his wife, and young son traveled to the United States and were reunited with his family at the Rochester airport.

The date was Aug. 5, 1995. Basic can rattle it off with ease; to him, it’s like a birthday or an anniversary. The meaningful day marks the start of Basic’s new life in America, of course, but it’s also the day Basic learned the meaning behind his first name.

Vehid isn’t a common name in Bosnia, and it was often the subject of jokes when Basic was a young boy. That day, as he was reunited with his family, he learned why his mom had chosen such an unusual name.

“She had been reading a book when she was pregnant, and the main character was a doctor,” said Basic. “She named me after him, hoping that someday, I’d become a doctor, too.”

He didn’t know it then, but that piece of information would later change his life.

On a Mission
The college degree Basic had earned in Bosnia wasn’t recognized in the United States. Despite all the hard work he had put in, Basic was happy to find work as a janitor in a local nursing home.

But his goals changed after he received a call from his father-in-law, whom he had become close with during his years in Croatia.

“He had called me to tell me that he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer,” said Basic. “He had six children, and it was me that he chose to tell. I took that as some kind of message. I needed to do something — anything — to honor him.”

Motivated by his father-in-law’s battle, Basic hung up the phone and immediately set out on a 10-mile walk to enroll in school and become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

The only admission requirement was an English test. Basic failed it — twice.

“When I went back the third time, the teacher said, ‘Is this really something you want to do? Do you think this program is for you, if you’ve already failed this test twice?’ I told her that I wouldn’t disappoint her. I was on a mission,” said Basic.

The third time was the charm. Basic passed, was admitted to the program, and received a perfect score on every exam. After graduation, he got a job working as an LPN in the same nursing home where he had cleaned the floors and scrubbed the toilets.

Basic went on to get his associate degree and started a new job at Highland Hospital. He then enrolled in the UR School of Nursing’s RN to BS program. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Basic decided, once and for all, that he was done with school.

The Promise
Unfortunately, it was another tragic event in Basic’s life that would lead him to go back on that decision.

In 2012, Vehid’s brother, Ned, was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 57. The cancer had already spread, and his prognosis was bleak.  

“Before he passed away, he told me how much he believed in me. He asked me to fulfill the name my mother had given me and become a doctor,” said Vehid. “I told him that I would.” 

That was the last time the brothers spoke. Basic had already lost Ned once – to the war in Bosnia – only to reunite in the U.S. Now, he was losing him for a second time.

Less than three weeks after Ned passed away, Basic’s 21-year-old son, who was just credits shy of graduating from college, went missing.

“He left the house and didn’t come back,” said Basic. “It’s been three years, and we still don’t know where he is, or if he’s OK.”

Consumed by grief, Basic chose to channel his emotions into something positive, and to try to live up to the promise he made his brother.

So he went back to school one last time — enrolling in UR Nursing’s adult-gerontology acute care NP program.

“I knew at my age that becoming a doctor would be difficult,” said Basic. “But a nurse practitioner — well, that was pretty darn close.”

This May, after three years of studying, Basic passed one last final exam and reported to Eastman Theatre to graduate. He decorated his graduation cap with a simple, poignant message: “For You My Brother,” and tucked a photo of Ned in his robe, close to his chest.

As he walked across the stage and received his diploma, his family cheered him on from the audience. After the ceremony, his loved ones embraced and congratulated him.

Twenty-five years after his final exam in Bosnia, Basic got the graduation celebration he deserved.

This story is also featured in the Spring 2017 NURSING magazine.