Collins, who lives in Battle Creek, plays from the heart, both the figurative heart and the one that was repaired by a surgical team at Borgess Medical Center. It's a repair that gave him back his music and, perhaps, his life.
In June 2008 Collins was sitting with a friend on his back porch, drinking a beer and chatting, when he "started feeling kind of clammy," he said. "There wasn't any pain, but that night in bed I broke out in a cold sweat."
He got up at 3:30 a.m., his usual time, and went to work feeling pretty much the same as usual. That evening, though, he had a repeat of the worrying symptoms. Worse, he coughed a little blood.
The next day he visited his family doctor. "He didn't see anything wrong," he said. But Collins was referred to Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall where he underwent a series of tests.
"They had me walk on a treadmill and I thought I passed," he said. "But the doctor said I had my problems. He said that I had a couple of clogged heart arteries and then one thing led to another."
One of those other things was a double bypass surgery at Borgess on June 6, 2008.
Surgery was scheduled for a few days after the tests and Collins kept his cool. "I sat at home, playing my guitar and chilling," he said. Collins is a member of the four-man band "Homebrewed" and also plays the mandolin and harmonica.
"On the day of the surgery I just had to show up and get it done," he said. "I felt so comfortable. I knew that Dr. (Michael) Khaghany was doing the surgery and I knew how good he is.
"Borgess gave me excellent care right from the get-go."
Collins was released a few days later for light duty but soon had a build-up of fluid in his body and returned to Borgess to have the fluid drained away. "This time I was in for six days, longer than after the bypass," he said. "The nurses and others were so nice to me. It was total comfort and I got a lot of rest. One night nurse even came in to fluff up my pillow."
Collins said that he has been in excellent health since.
"I did stop smoking immediately and changed my eating habits," he said. "I had smoked since I was in Vietnam in 1972 and had tried to quit a couple of times before. This time it worked.
"I have more energy than before the surgery and I am really active at work -- oh, boy, am I. When I’m not at work I do gardening and woodwork and make folk guitars and lots of birdhouses.
"I had never had a long bout in a hospital before. My mom has, at different hospitals, and the care she got was less than professional in some cases.
"But at Borgess they made me feel so much cared for. The second time affected me more mentally and I was a little fearful. But they comforted me."
Collins, his health restored, said he feels so good that he has no plans to retire. "I love the kids," he said. "They let me write music and sing at the school. I even write short songs that I use to help the younger kids learn words."
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