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Chance encounter with a nursing textbook changes life for multiple generations

Whether you call it fate, luck or divine intervention, the New Mexico State University student who left behind a nursing textbook after moving out of a residence hall 40 years ago had a significant impact on Margaret Pacheco?s life.


Group of women holding a framed picture
Margaret Pacheco?s legacy includes two generations of nurses. Daughters, from left, Martha Rivera and Christina Calderon and granddaughter Amy Lopez, right, are three of the six nurses in the family. The trio, along with daughter Estela Heredia, second from right who is an NMSU employee, also are NMSU graduates. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)
Plaque of woman in a nurses uniform
After finding a nursing textbook in a residence hall in the mid-1970s, Margaret Pacheco was inspired to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. Pacheco is honored with a plaque on the Nursing Wall of Excellence in the College of Health and Social Services. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

As a little girl, Pacheco had dreamed of becoming a nurse, but life delayed a career when she married and had eight children before the age of 30. Pacheco, who didn?t finish high school, was working at NMSU in the summer cleaning residence halls and began work on her GED in the mid-1970s. It was during that time that she found a nursing textbook in one of the residence halls that inspired her to move forward with her lifelong dream.

?I do remember at one time when I was still living at home and my mom mentioned that for all of her life, she wanted to be a nurse,? says Christina Calderon, Pacheco?s oldest daughter, ?but culturally and economically, it seemed like just a dream.?

After receiving her GED, Pacheco, a Las Cruces native, attended NMSU and studied in the licensed practical nurse program from 1977 to 1980. After working as an LPN for eight years, Pacheco returned to NMSU to become a registered nurse, and she graduated with an associate degree in 1989.

Daughter Estela Heredia, who was in middle school when her mother first attended NMSU, recalls the challenges her mother overcame to become a nurse.

?She had a lot on her plate, being a wife, being a mother with seven children still at home,? Heredia says, ?then venturing into this new area and enrolling in school.?

Heredia recalls how Pacheco always took care of their family and household responsibilities before she began her studies each evening.

?A lot of times, my poor mom, she would fall asleep at the living room table studying way past midnight,? Heredia says.

As the youngest of eight, Martha Rivera echoes that sentiment.

?A vivid memory I recall is the ability my mother had to divide her time among all of her responsibilities and never once complaining,? Rivera says.

While Pacheco attended NMSU, Calderon ?93 and Heredia ?10 ?13 were working at the university, and the pair has fond memories of meeting their mother for lunch in between her classes. The duo also followed their mother?s lead and earned degrees from NMSU after starting a family.

?I have three kids, and I, too, went through college later like my mom,? says Heredia, who is an executive assistant in the Office of General Counsel at NMSU. ?I thought, if my mom can do it with eight kids, I can do it with three. She was my hero.?

For nearly 30 years, Pacheco was a nurse at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, and she spent the majority of her career in the pediatric ward.

?The patients loved her,? Heredia notes. ?When she went to home health, they just loved her and looked forward to her visits. They would get attached.?

Rivera remembers an outing with her mother when they ran into a former patient and her mother, who thanked Pacheco for saving her daughter?s life as a 5-year-old. Pacheco was the one to notice a life-threatening illness that hadn?t been diagnosed; she then notified the doctor and treatment was started.

That little girl grew up to become a nurse, too.

?My mom never looked for glory,? Rivera says, ?but simply loved her job and treated every patient as if they were family.?
Pacheco retired in 2008 and passed away in January 2011.

?The year my mother passed, she had told me to complete school and graduate,? Rivera ?15 recalls. ?It was very difficult and bittersweet when I graduated without having her there, but her presence was felt. I remember her saying ?Life gets in the way at times, but school will always be there; it is never too late to go back to school.??

Not only did a discarded textbook spark a 30-year nursing career, but it also started a family legacy of nursing. Pacheco inspired not just one, but two generations to follow in her footsteps.

She has three daughters and three grandchildren who are nurses. Calderon and Rivera are nurses at MountainView Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces, and another daughter, Gracie Acosta, is a nurse in California.

?As a child, I saw my mother prepare for work, come home from work and never complain about her profession,? Rivera says. ?At the time, I did not realize what a rare trait that is ? I simply thought everyone loved their job as much as my mom did.?