'I Didn't Think I Was Going To Make It': CBS 11 Photojournalist Sal Rios Shares Personal Struggle With COVID-19

"It's nothing like you see on the news," says Rios... the emotion heavy in his voice, just minutes into the interview. "I didn't think I was going to make it."

Video Transcript

DOUG DUNBAR: You never see him on the news, but you do occasionally see, obviously, his video. One of our own here at CBS 11, an instrumental part in bringing you stories visually all across North Texas. He is sharing his firsthand account of COVID-19 tonight.

Photojournalist Sal Rios, I can tell you, is doing better now, thankfully. But for a while when he was in a hospital COVID unit, he was not sure how things would turn out. Here's our Robbie Owens.

SAL RIOS: It's nothing like you see on, on the news where you see the, the patients, you know--

ROBBIE OWENS: And Sal Rios should know. The veteran CBS 11 photojournalist has covered other North Texan stories for decades.

SAL RIOS: I didn't go to a party. I didn't go somewhere to put myself in jeopardy.

ROBBIE OWENS: --and did not expect a COVID battle to become his own.

SAL RIOS: I basically collapsed in my wife's arms. I said I had no more breath. I couldn't breathe.

ROBBIE OWENS: Matilda Rios calling 9-1-1 as a last resort.

9-1-1, what's your emergency?

Because, well--

MATILDA RIOS: You just hear people going to the hospital and, you know, they're not coming back.

ROBBIE OWENS: Rios, hospitalized twice since December, telling me he didn't want to go back either.

So Sal, what were you seeing and hearing around you as you were fighting?

SAL RIOS: Just the moaning. I mean, it was something out of a horror film. The screaming, the screams, the bells going off for they have an emergency, somebody's not making it.

ROBBIE OWENS: So other patients were dying all around you?

SAL RIOS: Oh yeah. It was a nightmare, and I was trying to wake up.

MATILDA RIOS: First of all, he was alone. And that was, you know, scary for, you know, both of us, you know? What if-- would I do if something were to happen and he's alone?

And he couldn't, we couldn't even talk, because he couldn't even catch his breath to be able to talk. So we would communicate by text message, you know, whenever he was having a good day. So then when he wouldn't text, that's when I would worry.

ROBBIE OWENS: Too weak to text, Rios says he would lie awake, battling worries of his own.

SAL RIOS: I didn't think I was going to make it, it got that bad. And I was pretty scared and started to try to make peace of what was happening.

ROBBIE OWENS: He says he remembers the doctors and nurses encouraging him to keep calm, to keep fighting, while faith did some flexing as well.

MATILDA RIOS: You know, I knew that our family, our friends and, you know, everyone, his work family, they were all, you know, praying for him. And, you know, I had a sense of peace because I, you know, I knew that everyone was praying for him.

SAL RIOS: And then I just decided that, no, I'm not going to go.

ROBBIE OWENS: Rios' COVID battle still isn't over, but at least he is recovering at home. The family, beyond grateful to those who choose to fight for others every day.

MATILDA RIOS: I just wanted to tell them thank you, because they're giving up a lot, you know? They're giving up, you know, and putting themselves at risk. I mean, if the CDC tells you to stay home, then stay home.

SAL RIOS: I guess this is no joke, it's, it's for real, and it's very, very scary.

ROBBIE OWENS: Robbie Owens, CBS 11 News.

DOUG DUNBAR: You know, every COVID story is unique, everyone is different. And Sal, we are grateful that you're here to share yours with everybody else, buddy.