Mention the name “Reno” to any Craig Hospital old timer, and you’ll be rewarded with a grin and a comment about burritos or the Broncos—or maybe both. The Craig graduate and long-time volunteer passed away in April 2013 of pneumonia, leaving behind a legacy of compassion and fun.
Reno Lee Vigil was born in Denver in 1963 and grew up in a large family alongside his mother’s siblings, whom she was raising.
“Oooh, Reno was ornery, but a good ornery, he was never disobedient,” says his mother, Sandra Archuleta. “One day when he was about four, I caught him about to operate on his aunt with a kitchen knife. He said he wanted to be like Dr. Ben Casey.”
As a youth, Vigil was a boxer and a football player, and worked many jobs, including a time at Denver’s famed Casa Bonita. In 1982, while traveling in Western Colorado, he fell asleep at the wheel, rolling his car multiple times. He was ejected and the car rolled on top of him. After two months in the hospital in Grand Junction, he came to Craig to learn how to live life with quadriplegia.
“Reno never wanted to come back and live at home after the accident, he wanted to live on his own and do it himself,” says Archuleta. “I didn’t treat him any differently because he was in a chair; he may have been paralyzed, but there was nothing wrong with his brain.”
Vigil began volunteering periodically at Craig following his accident, and became an official volunteer in 2001, serving in a peer support role. His mother would prepare pounds and pounds of beans and chile, which he and his aide would make into burritos for Craig patients and staff. “He was sneaky, the burritos were his way to start a conversation, they were an instrument for him,” says Archuleta.
According to Jill Stelley Virden, Craig’s volunteer coordinator, Vigil would spend hours chatting with patients and their families about anything and everything, including the latest Broncos game. “He loved Craig so much, he made people feel good about their decision to come there,” she says. “It was so comforting for patients to be able to hear from a previous patient who was an advocate and a supporter of Craig.”
“He used to wheel through the hallways so fast, I had to yell at him to slow down. He always had his shades on the top of his head and a giant smile,” says Sarah Davidson, driving rehabilitation and transportation specialist. “He was hilarious and fearless, kind and honest. He did the best he could with what he had.”
Following Vigil’s death, his family donated thousands of dollar’s worth of durable medical equipment to the hospital so that other patients might benefit from the independence Vigil knew.
“He was a bad boy sometimes, my main pain,” says Archuleta. “But I should have lost Reno in 1982. Any time that I had with him after that was a gift.”