Interview: Marcus Rios

We interview cornerback Marcus Rios, who has spent the offseason dealing with a rare and extremely serious fungal infection...

Since this interview was conducted, we've learned that Marcus Rios will probably have to have an additional procedure which will make sitting out the year a virtual certainty.

Q: So, starting off, what's the story for you right now? How's your health?

A: Right now, I still have an infection, it's still there. I'm still connected to my IV daily. But I just had an MRI last week, and they said it's improving a lot. Each MRI I'm taking, it's getting less and less. So that's a good sign. I'm feeling good though. I've been working out on my own. I've got my appetite back. I feel like I'm 100% like the infection's not even there, so I feel good right now.

Q: How did it feel at its worst? Pain, or just a general discomfort?

A: It was a lot of pain. I couldn't sleep. I was only sleeping for about an hour a day. I couldn't eat. I had no appetite from all the pain pills I was on. I was taking so many pain pills that some of them weren't even working anymore because my body got so used to them. So, I mean, those were out of the question, and then aching pains constantly, migraines constantly. I had a lot of pain. I couldn't see. I could barely see. It was really bad.

Q: How long was it that it was at its worst? Is that months we're talking here?

A: Yeah, it was bad since the beginning of the season. I played through this through the whole season.

Q: That's incredible.

A: Yeah. I still don't understand today how I was able to do that. I was just talking to my dad and my parents, because I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know exactly what was wrong. Nobody had any idea it was that bad. I had surgery during the season too, and everyone just thought, "oh, he went through that once, it's done." But the infection was still there. The surgeries I had though weren't even for the infection, the doctors didn't even know the infection was there. Basically they were pointless surgeries.

Q: Wow. So, did they discover the infection during a surgery for the sinus/migraine issue, or, how did they discover there was an infection?

A: They found out once my eyesight started going bad. It was after the season. My eyesight started going bad. I couldn't see at all. I couldn't move my eye. It was stable, I couldn't move it at all. I was seeing double vision, and was pretty much legally blind. And that's when they looked in closer to it and they realized that there was a fungus infection behind my left eye and at the base of my brain.

Q: When you heard that news, what went through your mind? That has to freak you out.

A: I was pretty scared, especially when they told me and my parents about the disease, that only twelve people had it and eight of them died. Some of the people had it, recovered from it, but then died later. In my case, UCLA had actually never had this case before, so they brought in experts from all over. They're actually kind of just using me as an experiment right now, because they don't even really know how I got it, so they're trying out treatments to see what works.

Q: So they don't know if it's genetic or if it's an environmental thing?

A: They have no idea how I got it because they said all the people that got it were old or had cancer or were otherwise unhealthy. For me to get that, being that I was young and I was healthy and I was working out all the time, they don't really have any idea how I got it.

Q: So they did the surgery for the sinus/migraine issue…was that not actually a problem? Is that what turned out to be the case?

A: It was a problem, because I wasn't breathing through my nose either. It was really hard during practice. I had a really hard time going the whole time because I'd be winded after one play because I couldn't breather very well. I wasn't letting it stop me though, because I was taking a lot of reps, and playing on special teams, it just made it a lot harder for me. I would always be tired. Everyone thought I was good to go, but I was out there tired. People thought I was slacking, you know, because they didn't know my situation. I would always kind of have to take breaks, I would have to take myself out of practice. But I knew something was wrong from the start.

Q: Looking back, do you think it started earlier than the beginning of the season? Do you think it started back in the spring?

A: I know it started before my first surgery, since I first got here. It started up when I first got here, and it just got worse and worse. The doctor said that all the pain killers, sinus meds, and amoxycilin I was on actually just made the fungus stronger and stronger. Then I got to the point where my eye started going bad, and things just got real bad.

Q: Can you notice your eye improving over time as the antibiotics start working a little bit better?

A: Yeah, they were checking my eyes every week. Right now, my eyes are good, they're back at 100%. So, everything's good with that.

Q: Do they have a time frame or even a guess when you might be able to get the injector out of your hand?

A: We've been thinking about it a lot. My sinuses are clear, but the doctors know that the infection is still there, so…based on how I feel right now, I'd want to be able to play this year, and be on track to start in San Bernardino. But the thing is the doctors don't think I'm ready, just because this thing is so rare and they're not really sure when they'll have it totally taken care of. I want to play this year, I know I'll be ready because I'm a hard worker, but if I had to tell you right now, I probably won't be playing this year. It takes a whole year for this thing to go away. They tell me that I probably won't be able to do anything til December, and by that time, the season is almost over anyway, and stuff like that. I probably won't be playing this year.

Q: That'll give you time to get healthy so you don't have to stress about anything else. You said you've been working out on your own. What has that been like, have they given you a plan for what you can do while you're still going through treatment?

A: I've been riding the bikes in the training room and stuff like that, but I feel good enough right now that that's too little for me. I've got to do more than that. I can do everything, pretty much, except I have the IV in my arm so I can't really sprint. So it's kind of hard. I'm not going to lie, though, I've been lifting weight, doing some pushups, situps, all that kind of stuff pretty much. I've worked out every day.

Q: It's an IV in your arm but it's obviously not what you think of as a traditional IV. Is it an injector in your arm?

A: Yeah, it's inserted into my lower bicep, and it goes all the way up to my shoulder and all the way down to my heart.

Q: Is that uncomfortable to wear?

A: No, I can't even feel it actually. It's fine. It was weird at first, but I'm used to it by now. They're going to make me stay on it for the rest of the year, so I'd better be used to it.

Q: So, at this point the prognosis is that it'll get better and better over time until December, when it should be done?

A: Yes, that's what we're thinking. It's just kind of hard because I want to be out there so bad. This was going to be my first year actually playing and being the starter and stuff like that. I mean, I'm a hard worker, so I expect to be at that position next year, but it's a little disappointing. I'm not worried about it right now, though.

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