Dr. Keith Collins, an affable pediatrician who rose to local prominence by forging close bonds with his patients and their parents, died Saturday. He was 45.
The founder of Collins Pediatrics in Metairie and Lakeview, he earned a reputation as a caring, hard-working and knowledgeable doctor and quickly became a prominent member of the area’s medical community.
“I think he was so magnificent,” said Jennifer Collins, his wife of 22 years. “What he accomplished in such a short time here is such a testament to his work ethic, personality and charisma and will live on with his practice.”
Collins was diagnosed in May with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, which sparked an outpouring of support, marked by green and white car magnets emblazoned with the slogan “Keep Calm and Cure Keith.” About 4,000 of the magnets were eventually distributed.
Though initially shying away from the attention, Collins — the father of six and a man deeply committed to his Catholic faith — agreed to the magnets if people were encouraged to pray when they saw them.
Himself the youngest of nine children, Collins grew up in Metairie and graduated as valedictorian of De La Salle High School in 1987.
Though he had an early interest in medicine, financial considerations led Collins to got to work after getting his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at Boston University.
When he decided to pursue his lifelong ambition, he did so with a promise to his wife that going back to school would not detract from his growing family.
He applied three times before being accepted to LSU’s medical school. Once there, he would receive its highest honor, the Chancellor’s Award for Integrity, Character and Service.
Combining his engineering background with his love of Carnival, Collins devised a set of portable stands — dubbed “siege towers” — that could support more than a dozen people on parade routes. He was also a devoted Saints and LSU fan, often traveling to away games to watch the teams play.
Collins was immediately drawn to pediatrics because of the importance of caring for children and his ability to connect with them, his wife said.
“He was truly interested in everyone’s life and just loved interacting with people,” she said. “And that was part of what made him such a great doctor.”
Dr. David Myers, a longtime friend, said that trait made Collins stand out.
“To be a good pediatrician you have to know your medicine, but to be a great pediatrician you have to be able to relate to kids personally, and he had that for sure,” Myers said. “He made them feel like they were the center of his world.”
Collins started his own practice just two years out of his residency and quickly built it into a booming business that served the children of elected officials, Saints players and some of his fellow physicians, among others.
His gregarious nature — his favorite activity was talking to other people, his wife said — led to his involvement with community service organizations, including the board of East Jefferson General Hospital and the St. Catherine of Siena Men’s Club. He was also a member of Metairie Country Club, the Krewe of Hermes and the Krewe of Baronne.
In addition to his wife, Collins is survived by his six children, Caroline, Keith “Andrew,” Julianne, Analiese, Christian and Kyle Collins; and seven siblings, Hank Collins, Kathy Morse, Peggy Collins, Kevin Collins, Kelly Savage, Rosana Preau and Tommy Collins.
A wake will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at St. Catherine of Siena Church, 105 Bonnabel Blvd., followed by visitation until 9 p.m. Visitation will resume Friday from 9:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., with a funeral Mass at noon.
Interment will take place at Metairie Cemetery.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.