The coronavirus had already killed Nieves Salas Solis’ mother and brother when he called his daughter from a hospital bed with a chilling message: “I’m next.”
Nieves, 62, who grew up in Dallas and in recent years lived in a Mexican border town doing community outreach, had a high fever and shortness of breath. It was mid-August, and he had managed to drive himself to a hospital in Harlingen, Texas, where doctors confirmed that he had Covid-19. But their efforts to clear his lungs were not working, said his daughter, Ana Alonso.
Ana knew her father was grieving his mother, Eva Solis-Salas, 89, who died Aug. 6, and a brother, Ruperto Salas Solis, 67, who died Aug. 10, after their own brief battles with the coronavirus.
But the thought of losing him, too, was unimaginable. Nieves was a “health freak” who ran up to 5 miles a day and had no underlying medical conditions, Ana said. Decades earlier, he had nearly become a professional boxer, turning down the opportunity only because Eva — a single mother to Nieves and nine other children — was afraid he would get hurt.
From her home in Mesquite, Texas, Ana begged her father to stay upbeat.
“You still have to fight,” she said she told him over FaceTime. “I said, ‘What do you have to say?’ And my dad put his hand up, and he flipped off the camera, and he said, ‘This is what I have to say to Covid.’ He kept saying, ‘F— Covid!'”
Nieves was always joking around, Ana said, and seeing his sense of humor from the hospital gave her hope. But his condition worsened, and on Aug. 22, he succumbed to the illness.
The Salas Solis family had now lost their matriarch and two of her sons. But their heartbreak was not over: On Sept. 15, another son, Raul Salas Solis, 64, also died of Covid-19 after having been hospitalized for more than a month.
The four deaths in less than six weeks, reported Tuesday by the Dallas Observer, shattered the close-knit family, which includes Eva’s approximately 32 grandchildren, 59 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren. One of Eva’s grandchildren, Jahaziel Salas, also experienced another loss from the disease: His father-in-law, Alfredo Nava, died of Covid-19 earlier in the summer.
“It’s been very, very tragic for our family, and I honestly still think that we haven’t fully processed everything,” said Ana, 40, who co-teaches seventh grade. “Somehow, it needs to be turned into awareness.”
That is what their late relatives would have wanted, Ana said. Helping others was in their blood: About five years ago, her father moved from Texas back to his birthplace, Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, Mexico, retiring from work as a warehouse manager to dedicate himself to helping families in need of medical care and education.
Nieves lived next door to his mother in Valle Hermoso, while another son, Ruperto, lived with their mother. A third son, Raul, ran