Baltimore native in Italy knows about life amid COVID-19 pandemic

Tanya Castagna, a graduate of The Catholic High School in Baltimore and a nurse, has lived since 2006 on the Italian island of Sardinia, with her husband, Antonello Capalozza, and their children, Matteo Thomas and Sophia Rose. (Courtesy Tanya Castagna)

Tanya Castagna grew up in Baltimore’s Little Italy, but has spent the last 14 years in the real thing. She lives with her husband and their two children in Cagliari, a small town on the island of Sardinia, where she works in a hospital operating room.

Her home on the Mediterranean is closer to Tunisia than Vatican City, but she has nonetheless been a witness to the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on Italy, which reported 919 deaths due to the virus for March 27 alone, taking it over 9,000 total.

Castagna has not yet worked directly with COVID-19 patients, who are being treated at another hospital in Sardinia. Once that hospital is filled, however, hers is prepared to care for the overflow.

“On February 22, the prime minister of Italy practically put the whole country on lockdown,” said Castagna, who misses simple pleasures such as attending Mass and going to the park with her family. “Life is not the way that it used to be.”

Even in normal times, it’s a long way from Exeter Street and her childhood parish, St. Leo the Great in Little Italy.

Castagna, who visits Baltimore once a year, graduated from The Catholic High School of Baltimore in 1992. She earned an associate’s degree from Essex Community College, and then a nursing degree from Stevenson University in Owings Mills. She always had an interest in science and medicine, and knew that she wanted to help others. Working as a nurse gives her the best of both worlds.

Castagna began her professional career at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she worked for three years. While in Baltimore, she met her husband, Antonello Capalozza, an engineer. After the birth of the first of their two children, the couple decided to move to Sardinia, his birthplace, to continue building their family. In 2006, they relocated there, where she resumed her profession.

“It felt like home because they have the same materials, the same surgeries, the same everything,” said Castagna, who said the main difference is that Italy operates under a social healthcare system.

“My concerns are that not everybody will be able to get 100 percent care and that many (more) will die,” said Castagna, who also worries about the health of her husband and their children, Matteo Thomas, 16, and Sophia Rose, 9.

COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 60 priests in Italy. Eyes around the world turned to St. Peter’s Square March 27, where Pope Francis, in his “Urbi et Orbi” message, prayed that all may find “comfort of the Holy Spirit and final preservation in good works.”

Castagna is not letting the stress of the pandemic affect her faith, which she claims has been strengthened by the pandemic.

“God is in control,” she said. “I have nothing to be scared of.”

Castagna said that Italians have been united during the pandemic. On some nights her neighbors all go outside at the same time and turn on their phone flashlights, serving as a moment of unity and recognition for all healthcare professionals. In other regions of Italy, people have shared music, song or a simple unified clap from their respective balconies.

“There have been various times that Italians have come together during this difficult situation,” she said. “We just have to stay together and be patient.”

For more on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, click here.

Brooke Mosca

Brooke Mosca

Brooke Mosca is a 2019 graduate of The Catholic High School of Baltimore and a communication arts major at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. Her passion for writing blossomed as a child, when she jotted down ideas with her father for their own comedic sketches. She is pursuing those interests at St. John’s, filling multiple roles at WREDtv, the campus television station, and with The Torch, the school newspaper.

When in Baltimore, she worships at St. Ursula in Parkville, where she attended the parish school.