Bret Kolman leans back in his chair, takes a glance at a family photo in his Centerpoint Medical Center office, and smiles as he talks about his late father, Verlin Kolman, who recently died after contacting COVID-19.


"My dad was the type of guy who put everyone else before him. He was a great husband, father and grandfather who loved more than anything, to be with his family," said Kolman, the CEO of Centerpoint, who grew up in the tiny community of Beloit, Kan., the longtime residence of his father and mother, Diane.


He was the type of individual who would inspire more than 5,000 views on a YouTube video of his graveside service from a community of 3,500.


"My dad and mom loved to travel, and in what he called his 'farewell trip, because it's just too much driving,' they went to see my sister Denise in Dallas," Kolman said, "and my niece in Oklahoma City and my son in Tulsa.”


"When he got back to Beloit on March 11, everything seemed fine until a day or two after they got back. My mom called and said my dad had a fever, but we weren't too concerned about that. Then a day or two later she called and said he fell down in the middle of the night.”


"Now, my dad was 83 and in great health. He had never spent a minute in the hospital – he had his appendix, no broken bones, it was pretty amazing, but I felt like I needed to go down and see him.”


"I was talking to our employees and they said, 'Bret, you better go see your dad. We can handle this.’ That's just the type of great people I work with."


"So I drove to Beloit on Thursday, and when I got there, he couldn't remember my wife's name or his birthday. That's when I told him we were going to the emergency room – and naturally, he didn't want to go.”


"Don't know why he is so hard-headed about that, but the next morning I got up and I told my sister who lives in Beloit that I would like to see his labs. She pulled them up on a computer and I shared dad's labs with a couple of physicians, one of whom is an intensivist (critical care physician) with Tulane Health System.”


"He said I think you need to treat this like COVID. For some reason, his white blood cells were not responding to the disease. So he got him on some drugs that helped, and he actually bounced back, and eventually got up and ate breakfast.”


"I left about 5 p.m. that Friday. I was happy because he got on some COVID drugs and he was bouncing back, and things were on the upswing. But the thing about COVID is that it swings up and down, up and down, and on Saturday he spiked a fever.”


This is a link to the video of the service: https://youtu.be/-flsKgrCVkE

“With COVID you almost always have a fever above 100.4, but if you're an adult and you have a fever over 102.2 for a long period of time, that is too high of a fever for an elderly individual. My mom took him back to the ER. They had done a COVID test on him Thursday and that Saturday at 11 a.m. the test came back positive."


Kolman said "my jaw dropped to the floor when I found out I was around someone who was COVID positive" because it’s the opposite of what any worker – especially the CEO of a hospital – wants.


Kolman's father was transferred to Research Hospital in Kansas City. Within 12 hours of arriving at Research, he had to be intubated so he could breathe.


Within two days, the hospital told Kolman his father would not make it through the night.


"But, he did make it through the night," Kolman said. "We were doing a 24-hour prayer circle, and I think it really did bring our family closer together.


The roller coaster ride continued for the Kolman family as Verlin showed improvement, then no improvement, then suffered a setback that led to the former educator being placed on dialysis.


"The doctor said he was doing better, then a third doctor said he could die at any time," Kolman said. "Then, he got better, then the next day he crashed and he needed a unit of blood through a blood transfusion. His hemoglobin had dropped from 14, which is normal, to 7."


Two days after he got that unit of blood, Kolman looked at the labs and every number was either too high or low. After being on a ventilator for 11 days, Verlin died April 1.


"That's when I could see what was going on, and it was sad because we could not visit him in person," he continued. "From the time he got on the airplane in Beloit to Research, we never saw him again."


A funeral was held, and something inspirational happened.


"You think about videotaping a wedding, a marriage proposal or the birth of a child – there are all these happy memories you want to memorialize, but you never think about videotaping a funeral," Kolman said.


"Less than 10 people could go to the funeral – I couldn't go – but we wanted to memorialize our father so the pastor said to send in video comments so I did a video, and we will put it out there.”


"The Beloit First Christian Church holds about 300 people and more than 5,000 people have watched that video, which is such an amazing tribute to my dad. It's had a powerful impact. Dad never did anything real fancy – he was a principal at a high school and a shop teacher and a coach, and I think there is a lesson out there for all of us.”


"It's a lesson about a life well lived."


It also serves another lesson.


“As the CEO of Centerpoint, I never thought this would hit so close to home,” Kolman said. “My challenge to my staff is to take the lessons I experienced firsthand from my dad and COVID, and help them refine us – not define us.”


“I’m a better CEO today because of what my dad went through. I’m sad, but I truly believe he is in a better place and totally healed.”


This is a link to the video of the service: https://youtu.be/-flsKgrCVkE