Yolanda Acosta-Villegas fulfilled her dream of honoring her husband’s life by refurbishing the University of New Mexico Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit waiting room.
Acosta-Villegas spent the last year and $10,000 redecorating the waiting room and dedicated her work to her late husband Wednesday morning.
Her husband, Ralph, was brought to the hospital after an accident in 1998 and died while being treated at the trauma center. Her experience in the intensive care waiting room and memories of her husband prompted her to take action.
“I wanted to do something that would give comfort to others waiting in the room where some of the worst news of their lives could be delivered,” she said holding back tears. “I probably wouldn’t have done this if Ralph had died of natural causes, but it was such a painful, sudden experience that I knew I had to do something to commemorate his life.”
Acosta-Villegas said sitting in the waiting room was a painful experience, and it didn’t help her outlook to see tattered carpet that seemed to be 100 years old and bare walls.
“No amount of money I could spend would make this room a happy place, but I like to think that the work we have done here will help ease people’s hearts and minds,” she said.
With a large, ornate cross in her arms, Acosta-Villegas explained that she had planned to offer several religious items to the hospital’s chapel in a ceremony her husband’s birthday, but was told she could not because it falls on Ash Wednesday this year, a religious holiday when celebrations and commemorations cannot be observed.
She then presented two porcelain vases with the initials “A” and “V” on them.
“I thought it stood for Acosta and Villegas, but I figured out later it’s for “agua” and “vino,” she said jokingly. Agua and vino translate to water and wine used in Catholic ceremonies.
Acosta-Villegas then pointed out the artwork around the room and explained she chose each one because of its Mexican feel, adding that it reminded her of her husband because he was born in Mexico. She said the simple blue and white tile on the floor was in honor of her husband’s love of the Dallas Cowboys.
“This picture right here has four girls and one boy making their first communion and when I talked to Ralph’s sister, who is a nun, about how the piece reminded me of Ralph, she said it was amazing, because the family has a picture of Ralph just like it because he had his first communion with his sisters,” Acosta-Villegas said. “All the pictures are like that because they all are special and remind me of Ralph.”
Ralph Villegas owned and operated Coyote Gravel Products, so coyotes appear in one of the paintings in the waiting room. He was also a board member of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce and a member of the North Valley Optimist Club.
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A variety of hospital officials thanked Acosta-Villegas for her generous contributions and said it was very special she was helping them reach out to the families of the patients they work with. They noted that because UNM Hospital is the only level-one trauma center in the state, countless people from throughout New Mexico will benefit from Acosta-Villegas’ gift.
Following the ceremony, a plaque was placed outside the door of the waiting that says one of the last things Ralph Villegas told his wife before he died — “No lloren, no mas accuerdanse,” which translates to “Don’t cry, just remember.”