Juan Lopez Villagomez, M.D.
March 24, 1958-October 16, 1999
Juan Villagomez M.D., shared his final dying days with close family friends, siblings, parents, wife and his two children. However, it appeared he also shared his final life’s story throughout Southern California through the news articles from the LA Times. Julie Marquis, Times staff writer, was able to bring Juans’ struggle and simple message through print. Even till this day, 13 years after his death, and during 2012, I still find people remembering this story. It is only fitting, that we launched this website during the Virgen de Guadalupe Feast Day 12/12/12, and the greatly anticipated ending of the Mayan calendar, 13th Baktun on 12/21/12. Our hope with this website is to continue the mission's that he so wanted to accomplish. His character, humanity, humor and giving nature will help nurture development of his own mission.
Dr. Juan Villagomez was born on March 24, 1858 in Willits, California. The eldest of seven children to Jesus and Amelia Villagomez, both from Guanajuato, Mexico, he was raised in Geyserville, California, a small community in northern Sonoma County.
Dr. Villagomez graduated from Cardinal Newman High School and was recognized as the 1976 Most Outstanding Latino High School Student in Sonoma County. Growing up, he worked in many different jobs, including farm worker, dishwasher, janitor, cook, lumber mill worker, electronic assembler, clerk, pharmacy delivery person, camp counselor and teaching assistant.
Dr. Villagomez attended the University of Santa Clara where he received his B.S. Degree. He received his Doctorate of Medicine in 1984 from University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. From 1984-1987, he trained at Santa Monica Hospital Family Residency, which included training at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Dr Villagomez was active in the community as a Clinical Faculty at UCLA Department of Family Practice and Regent of Mt. Saint Mary's College. He was on the board of directors of several nonprofit, community organizations including the National Council of Christians and Jews - Santa Monica Chapter, Santa Monica College Associates, Venice Family Clinic and WISE-Westside Independent Services for the elderly. Dr. Villagomez enjoyed teaching and served as a preceptor and mentor for numerous medical students at UCLA. He helped provide behavioral health services to the community after the Northridge earthquake through SANA Behavioral Health Services.
Dr. Juan Villagomez was honored with the Humanitarian Award by the National Council of Christians and Jews and was recognized as a true humanitarian with the first ever "Por Ecclesia y Pontifice" Award for layman in the Catholic Church in 1999. He was the Founder and President En Memorium for CaLMA (the California Latino Medical Association) in 1999 prior to his death.
Dr. Juan Villagomez had a busy family medicine clinic and urgent care called Westside Medical Group and then Sana Medical Associates. His dream was to develop a multi-specialty group including geriatric and behavioral health center. Dr. Juan Villagomez's medical practice included inpatient care at Saint John's Hospital and Health Center, and Santa Monica Hospital and he was active in Surgical Assisting.
The struggle to give and then receive.
A Doctor's Journey With Cancer.
Illness: He prays to the Virgin Mary and writes letters for his children to read when they are older.
October 01, 1999|JULIE MARQUIS, TIMES STAFF WRITER
In just a week, it seems, Dr. Juan Villagomez has seen his entire life pass through this hospital room.
His family, his colleagues, his friends, the monsignor from his parish--even the archbishop of Los Angeles--have come to pay their respects. Hungry for air under his oxygen mask, he cannot always banter in the old way; he cannot always remember how long they stayed. Sometimes, he perks up and teases back--and the whole room laughs.
But when visitors rise to leave, he tears up, hiding his face in a towel. He does not know how much life there is left in his body. Villagomez is a 41-year-old physician whose illness--a rapidly moving stomach cancer--has defied healing. His "journey," as he likes to call his three-year experience as a patient, has forced him to face the limits of science and the challenge of faith.
His struggle, documented earlier this year in a Times article, has touched people well beyond his immediate community of West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Early this week, the pope conferred on him one of the highest medals a layperson can achieve, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, for his life service to humanity.
"I was stunned," Villagomez said, speaking with difficulty through his mask. "Stunned and speechless."
The award, which translates as "For the Church and the Pontiff," is given to a handful of parishioners in the archdiocese every few years, said Monsignor Lloyd Torgerson, who handed the medal and a certificate to Villagomez on Sunday.
The medal, bearing the likenesses of Peter and Paul, has its origins in the 19th century, when Pope Leo XIII bestowed it on those who helped to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination. Although this round of awards was intended to be distributed around the new millennium, the pope granted Villagomez his medal early, in view of his failing health.
"When I first called and told him he was going to receive it, he wept on the phone," said Torgerson, who recommended Villagomez to Cardinal Roger Mahony for the medal. "He accepted it with humility and great gratitude."
Torgerson, who is Villagomez's pastor, former patient and close friend, says that the family practitioner was honored for being "a wonderful husband and father, a disciple of Christ, a physician and a healer--an inspiration within the Catholic and broader community. He's just a great living witness to God's grace and hope in this world."
Mahony has twice dropped in on Villagomez, giving him a book of prayers and a black-beaded rosary blessed by the pope.
"It's a beautiful thing," Villagomez said of the rosary, which he wears around his neck, over his hospital gown. "I was very impressed by his presence. I kissed his ring."
Villagomez closes his eyes. Just when it seems he has dropped off to sleep, he whispers, "He prayed with me. He gave me a blessed prayer."
The doctor's visitors do not want to exhaust him, but they do not want to stay away either. Although a sign outside his door at St. John's Health Center implores visitors to check in at the nurse's station, many do not bother, certain that Villagomez wants them there.
"Juan loves people," said Rita Esquivel, a friend of the family whom Villagomez and his wife, Alicia, affectionately call comadre. Here at the hospital, she said, "you have a chance to see how he has affected everybody."
Esquivel, who became close to Villagomez when he helped her through a struggle with breast cancer, pops in often and teases him relentlessly until he rewards her with a grin.
She believes he is disappointed that the miracle cure he has been hoping for, the subject of daily prayers to the Virgin Mary, has not materialized. Still, his faith is strong.
Esquivel said sadly: "God is testing my faith."
Villagomez is forcing himself to be practical, taking calls from his lawyer to talk about trusts, telling Esquivel what he wants her to do for his children. He has talked to her about "after [he's] gone."
"I don't know where he gets the strength to say those things," Esquivel said.
Every night, Villagomez writes long letters to his two children for them to read when they are older. Bobby, 6, just entered kindergarten, and Gabby, 4, is in preschool. Every day after school, Villagomez's wife brings the two of them to the hospital, where they sit beside their father and try not to squirm too much. Bobby enjoys running his toys through Villagomez's hair.
In the background, the doctor's mother and father--both immigrants from Mexico who taught him the value of hard work years ago during Northern California harvests--stand by, ready to get him some juice or even a quick, clandestine sip of cold beer when he asks for it. They, and Alicia, look as though they have not slept in days.
Yet there is pride in their faces as well--at all the people streaming in, at the importance so many visitors attach to Villagomez's life. Whenever the pope's gift is mentioned, Villagomez's father's weathered face cracks into a big smile.
"Esta bien, hijo," he says tenderly to his son.
Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice
Juan Villagomez M.D. was awarded the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia at Pontifice for distinguished service to the church by a layman. This is an award from the Roman Catholic Church or originally established by Leo XIII during 1888. This is currently the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity by the papacy.
Juan Villagomez M.D. was very honored to receive such an award, and only reinforced his faith and spiritual well-being prior to his death.
Dr. Juan Villagomez; Beloved West L.A. Family Practitioner Honored by Pope
October 22, 1999|JULIE MARQUIS, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Dr. Juan Villagomez, a well-loved family practice physician whose three-year struggle with stomach cancer touched people from his West Los Angeles community all the way to the Vatican, died Thursday. He was 41.
Though he struggled at the end just to breathe, Villagomez was overjoyed to learn from his hospital bed last month that the pope had conferred on him one of the highest awards a layperson can receive, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, for his life service to humanity.
His reaction was typically humble. "I was stunned," he said. "Stunned and speechless."
His friends were happy too, but not overly surprised.
"He was a good example of someone who . . . wanted the world to be a better place," said Martha Duran-Contreras, Villagomez's patient and friend of 12 years. "He worked very hard at doing that, and at the same time he made his friends feel loved and always had time for them."
Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson of St. Monica's Catholic Church said the doctor was bright and strong-willed--"Look what he went through!"--but most of all, he had "this huge heart."
The eldest son of Mexican immigrants, Villagomez "always remembered where he came from. . . . He was once a poor man and he kept that in his heart," Torgerson said.
Rita Esquivel, a friend whom Villagomez and his wife, Alicia, affectionately called comadre, said he was the kind of doctor who inspired strong love and loyalty in his mostly elderly patients.
"When his children were born, forget it . . . you couldn't get into the office there were so many gifts," Esquivel said in a profile of Villagomez in The Times this year.
Forced to quit practicing last year, the doctor missed his patients. In a series of interviews this spring, he confided that he had trouble with the transformation from healer to patient. His journey, as he described his illness, challenged his faith, both in medicine and in God.
Yet, even as his health slipped away, he never lost his religious devotion. He prayed every day to the Virgin Mary, asking for a miracle. He learned from a friend just the right way to say the rosary. He wore a rosary blessed by the pope around his neck, over his hospital gown.
Villagomez struggled most of all with the prospect of leaving his young family--his wife and two children, Bobby, 6, and Gabby, 4. During the last year the four of them spent as much time together as possible.
At St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, where Villagomez was repeatedly hospitalized, the children would visit him after school, sitting beside him in his bed. Bobby liked to run toys through his hair, Gabby to give him little kisses ("besitos") when he asked for them.
Villagomez wanted his children to know him. In videotapes and long letters, he told them his life story and shared his musings for them to review when they are older. He explained in detail how he had learned to work hard as a boy during Northern California harvests.
"I am always praying for my health, praying for my family, praying for my wife and my children," he said in April.
Besides his wife, son and daughter, Villagomez is survived by his father, Jesus, and mother, Amelia, both of Geyserville, Calif.; his brothers, Manuel of Oakland, Jose and Salvador of Los Angeles, and Jess of Oxnard; and his sisters, Amelia James of Santa Rosa, and Adeline Mandujano of Healdsburg, Calif.
A vigil service is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Monica's Church. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Monday, with interment at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Virgen De Guadalupe
Latino Theme Cycling Jersey
Pedaling For A Good Cause
Modified Letter sent to supporters:
In 1996, Physician Juan Villagomez rode in the California AIDS Ride 3, inspired by the valor of a number of his AIDS patients, many of whom he met while attending medical school at UC San Francisco from 1980-1984.
The day he finished bicycling the 560 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the week-long event, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
“It was a shock,” said the now West Los Angeles resident. “I never had any cancer in my family.”
After undergoing four months of chemotherapy, surgery to remove his stomach and a 45-pound weight loss, Villagomez rode again as a cancer survivor in 1997, but he wanted to do more.
This year (1998) he has created Latino-themed cycling jerseys as a fundraiser for various organizations in the community in time for the fifth ride, which kicks off Sunday.
“This is my project and a way of giving thanks for my health and in tribute to my heritage,” Villagomez said.
Villagomez has enlisted the help of three San Gabriel Valley artists to fashion design to correspond with the benefiting nonprofit.
For example, the jersey showing the Virgin of Guadalupe, a patron saint of the Americas, and the logo of the United Farm Workers Labor Union will benefit the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation in Bakersfield.
A jersey depicting rays of sunshine and a Latina carrying a sack of corn will help out. With an increasing proportion of newly reported cases among Latinos, which is three times that of whites according to the Atlanta based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; there is ample concern to find a cure for AIDS.
Although Villagomez has returned to working at his family practice at Westside Medical Group Inc. in Culver City, he has scaled down his schedule to three days per week.
He said the extra time will allow him to ride part of the way in this year’s event and let him focus his efforts on sales. Villagomez hopes to cultivate buyers by sending out fliers a promoting the project at the event and in AIDS-related web sites.
Villagomez said he has much to be thankful for these days but part of his motto in life is reflected in the message adorning Diosdado’s jersey: “Live for today but don’t throw away the dreams for tomorrow.”
I am writing to request your donations in the sponsorship of the Latino theme cycling jersey project. This is a humanitarian project.
The Latino theme cycling jersey project seeks to design, produce and sell Latino theme cycling jerseys. The theme jerseys include the Virgen de Guadalupe/UFW jerseys, A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the cycling jerseys will be donated to the corresponding non-profit organizations.
The Virgen de Guadalupe/UFW cycling jerseys will benefit the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation.
I have participated in California AIDS Ride 3 and 4. The California AIDS Ride is a seven day, 560 mile cycling ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles during the first week in June. Monies raise are used for direct patient care through the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.
In June 1996, I participated in California AIDS Ride 3. I rode in memory of hundreds of AIDS and HIV patients that I had cared for as their physician. Unfortunately, On June 8 1996, on the day I finished the ride, I was informed that I had stomach cancer. I received chemotherapy for four months and a total gastrectomy. I returned to part-time practice in February, 1997.
In June 1997, my four brothers and I cycled in California AIDA Ride 4. I rode as a cancer survivor. We cycled with 2,400 riders and helped raise $9.4 million for HIV and AIDS care.
The California AIDS Ride journeys through the agricultural areas of Salinas Valley, Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Santa Inez Valley, Oxnard and Ventura. The Virgen de Guadalupe/UFW will highlight the issues of farm workers health, education and workers rights.
As a child, my family and I worked in the vineyards and orchards of Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties in Northern California where I was born and raised. I know first hand the difficulties many farm workers and their children struggle against such as harsh working conditions, low wages, lack of medical insurance, lack of medical care access, lack of educational resources and the list goes on.
The sale of the “Virgen de Guadalupe/UFW Latino Theme Cycling Jerseys will benefit the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation.
I hope you will join me in this humanitarian endeavor.
Thank you and God bless,
Juan Villagomez, M.D.
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