Retired police chief says he's blessed to be alive after recovering from COVID-19

A retired North Bay police chief is speaking out about surviving COVID-19.

"This is not the flu, this virus is no joke," said Carlos Basurto, 51, who admits he didn't take the threat seriously enough in the beginning. "I've never been this close to death in my life, I've never been so scared in my life, and I've never been more grateful." 

One month ago, Basurto, who was the police chief in Windsor, was discharged from Sutter Medical Center in Santa Rosa.

It was the first hospital stay of his life.

He is newly retired from a 31-year law enforcement career, rising to the rank of Lieutenant with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department and serving several years as the Police Chief in Windsor.   

"You think okay, the job didn't take him, but this virus could ?," said Basurto's wife Carmen, reflecting on the couple's experience.  

"It's a nightmare and you don't want anybody to go through that."

Added Carlos, "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."

He lost 24 pounds during his bout with coronavirus. 

His legs were left with inflammation and his knees and Achilles tendons are still weak and painful. 

"It's a balancing act, I've got to rest them and take it easier on my legs," said Basurto, frustrated that he can't get out for bicycle rides as he used to. 

His ordeal began with a family vacation to New Orleans in March. 

Toward the end of the trip, Basurto lost his appetite and his energy. 

On the flight home, chills and fever set in.   

"By the time we got to San Francisco, I couldn't even carry my suitcase," he recalled.

Knowing that her husband has asthma and that the coronavirus was spreading, Carmen feared the worst. 

She convinced Carlos to go to the emergency room within hours of their arrival home in Windsor. 

By that time, he was coughing and short of breath.   

"I didn't come home for another 21 days so it's a good thing she took me when she did," he says now. 

During 3 weeks at Sutter, he spent about a week heavily sedated and on a ventilator.  

"Everything's so rush, rush you don't really get to say goodbye," recalled Carmen. 

"And to see him suffer like that, and not know if that's the last time you're actually going to see him, it just broke my heart." 

Basurto went into an induced coma knowing that his wife and two children had tested positive.  

"So I wondered, if I made it through this, have I given them a disease that's going to put them next to me in the same hospital?"

Having her husband on a ventilator was Carmen's lowest moment. 

"Knowing that not everybody makes it back from that, I broke down."

After Basurto came to, but before he could speak, one of his nurses woke him for a Facetime call. 

"There was my family, first time I'd seen them since I was intubated and I realized they're fine, and not only that, I'm going to beat this," he said. 

He credits his religious faith, his family's love, his community's support, and the care at Sutter Santa Rosa for pulling him through. 

Carmen calls the Sutter nurses her saviors, for using their phones to let her check on Carlos.

"I was able to see him, even though he was sedated, and with tubes, I knew he was still there."

And they took her calls at all hours to update his vital signs. 

"When they said he's stable, that's the best we could hope for and that was good enough." 

Now at home, Basurto's wife and children are nursing him back to health. 

He's in physical therapy for his legs, and his son helps him work-out his upper body. 

Unable to climb the stairs, he has a bed set up in the living room.

"They gave me a little bell to call when I need something, but took it away!" he exclaims.

"Bad idea, bad idea," laughs Carmen.

They are able to joke now, but the trauma their family experienced is life-changing. 

They want people to know the risk of losing a loved one is real. 

For Basurto, the day he went home ranks with his wedding day and his childrens' births.   

"The day they wheeled me out of that hospital, and I saw my family waiting there, that was the happiest day of my life," he said. 

Nine of the ten people on the New Orleans trip tested positive and some became ill, but none as sick as Basurto. 

He admits, before the trip, Carmen wanted to cancel, but he insisted on going. 

"It's true, I should have listened to my wife, and stayed home," he said smiling. "So listen to your wife, she's smarter!"  

As of Monday, Basurto is among 128 Sonoma County residents who have recovered from COVID-19.

A total of 261 cases have been reported and three deaths. 

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU