From Texas Public Radio:
Ron Wilkins, a beloved educator and musician from San Antonio, recently woke up from a monthlong, medically induced coma in a COVID-19 ward. Over the weekend, he picked up his trombone for the first time since leaving Northeast Baptist hospital.
Wilkins got his big break about four decades ago, playing with trumpeter Clark Terry.
Fast forward to today: He just moved to Austin from New York City. Over the past four decades, he’s led several big bands, played on Broadway and taught at universities around Texas.
“I’ve had a very strong passion for that,” he said. “My mom was a career educator. And my dad always believed in the importance of having a good foundation involving education.”
He also spent a decade with the U.S. Air Force Band of the West at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
He’s led masterclasses around the world, and online.
The classes are free and open to anyone.
“Yeah, I was doing those in part to be able to give back to the community,” he said.
Each Facebook masterclass eventually breaks out into a jam session, with Wilkins playing a blues bass line while students improvise. This type of spontaneous, intimate, interactive experience is why teachers like Wilkins are so beloved.
But he recently took a break from those masterclasses because he felt tired and had a fever.
“Still a little foggy-headed dealing with the antihistamines especially with the pollen,” he told his Facebook followers in late March.
But it wasn’t just pollen. At the age of 62, and with underlying conditions and a transplanted kidney, his condition got worse in early April.
“I got COVID, which literally then put me in the hospital at Northeast Baptist for 32 days in a medically induced coma,” he said. “I was on a vent, I had a trach tube in me, I was intubated. And I don’t remember much of anything on that because when they rushed me to the hospital, I was pretty much unconscious.”
He survived. But 32 days in a medically induced coma isn’t cheap.
“Because of my military status, I’m going through the VA, so I can go ahead and get copay on the treatment,” he said. “But it’s still pricey, man. It’s still pricey.”
About five million Texans don’t have health insurance. And unequal access to healthcare has an unsurprising effect during a pandemic.
“It’s been ravaging through the Black community in particular and the communities of color because there’s not as much accessibility to the proper testing that should be given to all communities,” he said. “And, of course, the issues with health care, as well, because you have a lot of people out there who can’t afford proper health care.”