KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Travis Sampson is a “survivor”.

The Tri-Cities native proved he was tough on the 2004 CBS reality show “Survivor: Vanuatu.”

But roughing it for a reality show on a South Pacific island was nothing compared to what Sampson just endured.

“It’s the toughest thing I’ve been through,” he said about his battle with COVID-19.

Travis Sampson required life support and a ventilator for part of his month-long stay at Holston Valley Medical Center. “I was on full life support,” he said. (photo: Travis Sampson)

The virus that’s claimed the lives of two Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department deputies in recent months almost killed Sampson, a Sullivan County school resource officer at Sullivan Gardens Elementary School.

“It started off as a sinus infection,” he said.

But after testing positive for COVID-19, Sampson kept getting worse until he woke up in trouble. He says his wife heard him struggling.

“She ran in and said, ‘Travis, what’s wrong?’ And I finally gasped out, ‘Breathe!'”

Sampson said he had not been vaccinated. He thought he was immune after getting sick last year. “I was under the impression it was like chickenpox,” he said. “I thought I had it and was immune.”

Sampson was rushed to Holston Valley Medical Center where he stayed for a month. For eight days, he was in the intensive care unit on a ventilator in extremely critical condition.

He now believes the lack of a vaccine combined with multiple pre-existing conditions (hypertension and diabetes) made him a prime candidate for complications.

Sampson said he’s overwhelmed with gratitude for the staff at Holston Valley Medical Center. “I saw it ourselves firsthand. They’re working like crazy to help people and they do care.” (Photo: Travis Sampson)

“I’m lucky to be alive,” he said.

Sampson said he’s overwhelmed with gratitude for the medical staff at HVMC in Kingsport, his co-workers at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, and the students and staff at Sullivan Gardens Elementary.

“My appreciation for life, my appreciation for people has gotten so much greater,” he said.

Sampson says he’s hopeful people will pay attention to what happened to him.

“If what I went through is not enough to get people to get the vaccine, then me posting my opinion on Facebook isn’t going to change anyone’s mind,” he said.

His goal is to return to work once he no longer needs the support of a portable oxygen tank. He says it could take a year for his lungs to fully heal.

Still, the man who didn’t win the reality show says he’s now overwhelmed by the blessings of life.

“You know, I didn’t win a million dollars, but I’m still here.”