From waiting by the window to saying goodbye: A Kansas wife mourns the loss of her husband after long COVID battle

(KCTV5 News)
Updated: Feb. 22, 2022 at 7:43 PM CST
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IOLA, KS (KCTV) -- For more than a year and a half, a Kansas husband, father and grandfather fought to come back home from the hospital.

In the hospital, Roger Collins battled COVID and the toll it took on his body for more than 570 days.

KCTV5 News introduced viewers to his wife Billie Collins last year as she waited by Roger’s hospital window. When COVID-19 protocols prevented visitors from entering hospitals in 2020, she found a way to remain by his side.

Last February, the couple cheered for their Chiefs in the Super Bowl. They were together but separated by a glass window.

It’s difficult for Billie to look back on the beginning of their COVID battle.

“He leaned over, and he said, ‘Hug me because I don’t know when you’re going to hug me again,’” Billie Collins recalled about the day Roger was flown via LifeFlight to the hospital.

Hugs eventually came. Roger shared an extra special hug with his granddaughter this New Year’s Day, when family members brought her to his hospital room.

“He got to hug her and that was huge,” Billie Collins said.

On Jan. 26, KCTV5 News spoke with Roger from his Texas hospital room. He and Billie moved from Kansas to Texas for his ongoing treatment. Billie shared videos of Roger cheering for his Chiefs to show friends and family just how far he had come.

Roger said he was working hard during physical therapy and couldn’t wait to be back home with his family. He celebrated his birthday on Feb. 1 in his hospital room.

“Lots of phone calls,” Billie Collins said. “It was a really good day. He was really in good spirits.”

“My love for my wife, number one. My kids and grandkids. It’s what has kept me going,” Roger Collins said that January day.

Days later, Roger felt very ill. He received dialysis treatments several days in a row.

“He was tired. He was so tired. He worked so hard,” Billie Collins said. “He just looked up at me and he touched the side of my face and he said, ‘I’m sure gonna miss you.’ And I said, ‘I’ll miss you too, but I’ll see you tomorrow.’”

Doctors and nurses called Billie to Roger’s bedside that night. She held his hand in hers until he let go.

“I think his mindset was ‘I want to win,’ but I think his body just finally said, ‘It’s time to go,’” Billie Collins said. “His heart just stopped.”

Billie said she is heartbroken, but her heart is soaring because Roger is no longer in pain.

“For me, I know he’s at peace,” she said. “I know that. I just have to believe that there’s a reason and there’s a purpose and that God brought us on this journey for a reason.”

Along their more than 18-month journey, Billie said their small town of Iola, Kansas supported them every step of the way.

“I never had to focus on anything but Roger, and Roger never had to focus on anything but getting better.”

Billie said she feels blessed to call Roger her husband, her children’s father but more importantly her best friend.

“Oh, 100% my person. He was and always will be the love of my life,” Billie Collins said. “I am broken, but I am whole because I know -- even though it wasn’t my plan for the end of this journey -- I know God’s plan was played out.”

Billie said their three children worked tirelessly to make their dad proud during his journey to get well. She believes Roger’s strength inspired them to each accomplish important achievements in each of their lives.

“I know, when he went to heaven, I know that he is so proud,” Billie Collins said.

A Celebration of Life service to honor Roger’s life will be held on Saturday, Feb. 26. Family will greet friends the night prior to the service on Feb. 25 from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. in The Venue at Feuerborn Family Funeral Service in Iola, Kansas.

In lieu of flowers, memorials in honor of Roger are suggested to CollinsAintQuitters to help defer medical expenses and may be left with the funeral home or mailed to 1883 U.S. Highway 54, Iola, Kansas, 66749.