COVID-19 victims remembered as death toll passes 200,000 in U.S.

Dr. Leroy Collum (center) always said family was the most important thing. He worked to serve others, even in the danger of the pandemic. He passed away in August due to COVID-19.

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

There have been more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States since March. Families around the world have had to opt out of funerals and memorials.

Tyler senior Morgan Koziol lost her grandfather, Dr. Leroy Collum, to COVID-19 this summer. He was 86 years old, a psychologist, and is survived by 12 children, 25 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild, Koziol said.

“We all loved him. We thought he was never going to die, honestly, and he took COVID pretty seriously,” Koziol said. “He would just go to work and come home, and he would always wear his mask … and then he still ended up getting it.”

Collum provided counseling at nursing homes, Koziol said. There’s a chance this is where he contracted the virus, however, they don’t know for sure.

“He knew that his job was really important for everyone’s mental health, and so it was really important to him to keep working there,” Koziol said.

When he started feeling unwell, Koziol said he was determined to not get checked into a hospital, but his condition worsened, and he had to be placed on a ventilator.

“It was happening so fast. No one was allowed in the room with him,” Koziol said. “The only people that were allowed in the room with him were my grandma and then one of my uncles, because they had both tested positive for COVID … Because it was all moving so fast, it was a miracle that everyone of his children got a minute on the phone with him, and he wasn’t even speaking. You could only talk to him because he was in so much pain, and his condition was so bad. It was really heartbreaking.”

To celebrate his life, Koziol said the family gathered at her aunt’s grave and held a ceremony. Family was the most important thing to Collum, so gathering at her aunt’s grave all socially distanced with lawn chairs was their way to say goodbye as a whole family.

Koziol said her grandfather’s emphasis and love for family shaped the way she treats her family.

“My favorite memories were when he would tell stories on Christmas Eve. No one in the family was allowed to miss Christmas Eve,” Koziol said. “We would all sing carols and exchange gifts. It would last hours, and I never wanted it to end.”

Collum loved everyone, Koziol said. He made it a point to teach his children to be open-minded and accepting of everyone. It’s easy to overcome hardships with love, she said.

“It’s important to all of my family right now to actually just keep coming together and facilitating togetherness and loving each other because he wants a big family, and he wants us to still love each other and be close and spend time together,” Koziol said.

After her grandfather died from COVID-19, Koziol said her entire outlook of the pandemic changed.

“Even though my grandpa was doing everything … he still got it and died,” Koziol said. “It made me take it a lot more seriously. Instead of only caring about myself … I switched over to ‘protect everyone,’ because I could have it at any second.”

Koziol said when she sees people not taking COVID-19 guidelines seriously, it upsets her that everyone isn’t doing their part to protect each other.

“I know that nobody’s gonna take it seriously until they lose someone,” Koziol said. “I’m not going to wish that upon someone, but I know that me just speaking about it to them isn’t going to be enough of the experience of losing someone.”

Associate professor of vocal coaching Dr. Jeffrey Peterson said he learned two of his friends died from COVID-19 through Facebook.

“I was frustrated because it wasn’t being addressed properly by our government … It was preventable — absolutely preventable,” Peterson said. “But you had an administration that thinks it knows better than science. And, you know, I am not a scientist. So I believe the scientists … It’s just not been handled well. In this country, a lot of people have tried, but we need everyone to do it.”

Peterson said everyone reacts to COVID-19 so differently, which means everyone needs to take it seriously because it can be fatal no matter your age or health.

The biggest idea missing from Americans in this pandemic is empathy, Koziol said.

“I know that most people will not take it seriously until they lose someone,” Koziol said. “I’m not going to wish that upon someone, but I know that me just speaking about my experience with COVID isn’t the painful wake-up call experience of losing someone to COVID.”