Langley couple recounts month spent volunteering in Cremona, Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Mary and Matt Wakutz served as ward nurses at Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospital

Langley residents Matt and Mary Wakutz are back home after spending almost a month in Cremona, Italy at the Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospital.

Matt, 30, is an emergency room nurse at Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Mary, 28, is a labour and delivery nurse at Langley Memorial.

The couple – who met while studying at Trinity Western University – served as ward nurses, caring for coronavirus patients who couldn’t be admitted to the at-capacity Cremona hospital.

“Cremona was especially hard hit and got to a point where the health system was too overwhelmed and more bed and ventilators were needed – so they asked for help,” Mary said.

The northern region of Lombardy where Cremona is located has recorded 89,442 confirmed cases and 16,174 deaths due to COVID-19.

Serving in other countries is not a foreign concept to the couple; Matt told the Langley Advance Times he had lead a team in Israel and Palestine while Mary volunteered in Zambia.

“It goes back to being part of my youth group and the biblical mandate of helping those in need,” Matt explained, adding that he had volunteered in Italy 12 years prior and felt this opportunity brought him full circle.

Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that have provided spiritual and physical aid to people around the world since 1970.

When the couple heard about the opportunity to help through the organization, they signed up and headed to Calgary, where their headquarters are based, for training.

“When we were deployed, we felt peace about going,” Mary assured. “We were not scared; the timing worked out and we understood that we were being used by God.”

“We worked in night shifts,” she recalled – 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at the emergency field hospital – a space that had been set up in a parking lot adjacent to the Cremona hospital.

The couple stayed at a nearby hotel and would take a city bus to the respiratory care unit where they’d put on their scrubs and protective equipment.

Matt was in the men’s ward while Mary worked in the women’s ward, though both would occasionally lend a hand in the Intensive Care Unit.

“Samaritans Purse has a great track record,” Matt added. “They have everything down to a T and everything is very tightly run.”

Each ward contained 14 patients where the Wakutzes said they helped people stricken by COVID-19 with breathing, medication administration, and mobilization.

Despite knowing “limited” Italian, the couple said the language barrier was not as big of an issue as one might have thought.

“They had an awesome team of local interpreters,” Mary recalled. “They were basically a bunch of random people from the city that wanted to help their community.”

Both also noted that they felt an “insane level of gratitude” thanks to overwhelming hospitality shown my the residents who were eager to thank them and invite them into their homes.

“People were always showering us with treats and food,” Matt smiled.

READ MORE: ‘Paralyzed by fear’: B.C. woman details anxiety, grief at Italian relief hospital

Despite the intensity and fear that the pandemic has brought on across the world, both Matt and Mary said their faith was not shaken during their time in one of the hardest hit regions – adding that, if anything, it gave them even more of a reason to believe.

“I know a lot of people are struggling with their faith right now, but I felt there was a sense of hope and peace,” Mary said. “We saw that in Cremona – despite chaos – that God shows up in different ways to provide comfort.”

Matt and Mary arrived back in Langley in mid-May, after having pre-planned with friends who generously dropped their car off at the airport and stocked their fridge full with food.

The couple quarantined in their home for the two weeks that followed and have been reconnecting with family after displaying no COVID-19 systems ever since.

The Wakutzes will head back to work next week, but both agreed they would join Samaritan’s Purse again in a heartbeat and help out wherever help is needed.

“We all have opportunity do something for your neighbourhood. Take a step out and go the extra mile,” Mary said. “Be merciful and generous.”

People can find out more about Samaritan’s Purse’s efforts and donate at www.samaritanspurse.ca.

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Is there more to this story?

Email: ryan.uytdewilligen@langleyadvancetimes.com

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