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‘This disease is just evil’: KKTV producer shares story of losing mom to COVID

The El Paso County Health Department received 1,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for...
The El Paso County Health Department received 1,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a clinic held on Saturday and Sunday.(KKTV)
Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 12:06 PM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - For those who haven’t been directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the death toll might seem like just a statistic. But Keith Earl and Del Kilgore know the pain behind those numbers.

Earl is a creative services producer for KKTV 11 News. His mom, Linda Wilson, died from COVID-19 on April 29, 2020. Kilgore, Wilson’s husband and Earl’s stepfather, was also diagnosed and hospitalized at the same time. Both had underlying health conditions. Wilson was a cancer survivor. Kilgore had had open heart surgery.

“I thought she was going to get better. I fully believed she was going to get better. I was more concerned about him than my mom,” Earl said. “Even the doctors were more concerned about him and what the virus does to your pulmonary system and your heart.”

Wilson was taken to Penrose Hospital on April 20, 2020.

“I stayed a day to make arrangements for the dogs and let people know that we weren’t going to be around,” Kilgore said. “But then I went the following day and was admitted.”

Wilson and Kilgore were originally put in hospital rooms right next to each other. In addition to COVID-19, doctors also diagnosed Kilgore with pneumonia.

“I was there for 2 weeks in isolation. That’s when Linda died, shortly after I had gotten there,” he said. “But I did get a chance to talk with her when she was on the ventilator. I couldn’t see her … and she couldn’t talk back, but I did at least get a chance to say goodbye.”

Kilgore had to say that goodbye through an iPad. Earl and his husband were able to see his mom in person one final time.

“They called me and said, ‘If you want to say goodbye to your mom, you need to get up here right now,’” Earl said. “They broke the rules for us, and I’ll always be grateful to the nurses for allowing us to go up there and say goodbye because so many other people did not get that opportunity.”

Earl had to suit up in full personal protective equipment before going into his mom’s hospital room.

“They tried to prepare me when I went in to see my mom, but there’s no way they could have completely. She was in a machine that had her sandwiched in,” he described. “She was on a ventilator. I couldn’t even see her face. All I could see was her arm and leg because she was strapped in this machine because her lungs were so weak they had to keep rotating her. It’s so hard to manually do it, this machine did it.”

Earl said his husband sang “Starry Starry Night” -- one of Wilson’s favorite songs.

“I swear the heart monitor started going faster. She was reacting to the song. It was beautiful,” he said. “The chaplain stayed with her after we left, and she was gone in a matter of seconds after we were gone. It was like she waited for us to say goodbye.”

The days that followed Wilson’s death were some of the darkest in Earl and Kilgore’s lives.

“Not only are you dealing with the loss and dealing with grief, but you’re not allowed those moments of gathering with family. You’re not allowed those moments of having a memorial service to all come together and celebrate life,” Earl said. “This disease is just evil to not only take their lives away, but take away that moment.”

“The whole experience was just beyond anything in my worst nightmare that I could have imagined,” Earl continued. “It was, it was awful, and then we’re still dealing with it. It’s going to be a scar on me for the rest of my life. I don’t think anybody could, can get over.”

Even months after being released from the hospital, Kilgore said he still has lingering effects from the disease.

“I still don’t have any stamina,” he said. “I have some vertigo, which I’m doing exercises hoping to help.”

While managing the lasting physical symptoms, Kilgore said he’s enrolled in a grief recovery support group to help him process the mental toll of losing his wife. He and Wilson would have been married 14 years in June 2020.

“She had a great smile, and I just loved her smile,” Kilgore remembered fondly. “We met in Flagstaff, and we were living in the same townhouse community, and my parking spot was right in front of her townhouse.”

Kilgore said Wilson initially turned him down, but he eventually won her over.

“I miss her a lot.”

Both Earl and Kilgore said they are thankful for the incredible support from the doctors and nurses at Penrose Hospital. One of the nurses even printed part of Wilson’s heartbeat on a piece of paper for her husband and son to keep in her memory.

They’re hoping their pain can help others realize how serious this pandemic is. Kilgore said he wrote “COVID-19 is not a hoax. My wife died April 29, 2020” on a face mask he wears.

“It makes me angry,” he said. “When somebody says it’s not a big deal, well, it is to a great number of people … I got so tired of people saying that it was a hoax, and it’s not a hoax.”

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