WBEN In-Depth: Life in Italy for WNY Navy Corpsman

Kayle Madej shares her experience living in Italy during coronavirus pandemic

Mike Baggerman
March 26, 2020 - 3:00 am
Kayle Madej (Photo courtesy of Kayle Madej)

Kayle Madej (Photo courtesy of Kayle Madej)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – As Western New Yorkers continue to adjust the coronavirus pandemic here, one local woman is still adapting to life overseas in one of the hardest hit areas in the world: Italy.

Kayle Madej enlisted in the United States Navy in 2018 and has been in Naples, Italy for more than a year where the Corpsman works at a base hospital.

Over the course of her deployment, the 24-year-old native of Lancaster developed a friendship with many of the locals and would often partake in group activities like skiing in the northern part of the country, eating dinner, drinking wine, and singing songs.

But in January the mood started to change.

“There was that elephant in the room that the coronavirus was coming,” she told WBEN. “They knew the word. They speak Italian and I speak the language and (the coronavirus was in common). It was very clear in the room. We had to say our bittersweet goodbyes because we knew it was becoming more of a problem.”

Now, Madej described the whole scenario and how it evolved as "insane".

“It’s insane to not see anyone on the street and to see streets completely empty,” Madej said. “That’s just not how Italy is.”

Italy was one of the first countries that the United States issued a warning not to travel to because of the pandemic. The country has been devastated by the virus with approximately 75,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,500 deaths. In the United States, there have been more than 60,000 cases but less than 1,000 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered a nationwide ban on public gatherings on March 9, along with limitations on how many people are allowed to go out in order to obtain supplies.

“(The people) are truly scared,” Madej said of life now in Italy. “They’re scared to be around their own families and they’re scared to leave their own houses. Now that they can’t they’re going stir-crazy just like us.”

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She said there was a period where morale was lost. That continued until individual people began playing music from the balconies of their homes in videos that quickly became viral across the world.

Still, Madej said that people are making the best of the situation.

“There’s really no change in morale,” she said. “It’s at an all-time low. It’s just staying at that low-level. People are still doing their best but everyone’s panicked. Everyone basically quickly runs through the stores and gets what they need and waits.”

She is considered an essential employee due to her work at a hospital and she said that her hospital is following similar guidelines as is being done at hospitals in the United States.

Madej said she is fortunate that the military has a commissary that is dedicated to US Military for groceries.

But she, like everyone in Italy, is not allowed into town unless it is for an essential reason.

“The police have been pulling over everyone to really enforce the traveling bans that we have,” she said. “They will give you a fine for it.”

A native of Lancaster, Madej moved to the City of Buffalo a few years ago for her job working for an ambulance company. The 24-year-old was a volunteer firefighter in Tonawanda before she enlisted into the US Navy.

She continues to follow developments of what’s happening back home and relies primarily on her parents to relay information because of a restriction on internet access overseas.

One of the things she was especially disheartened by was the decision by organizers here to cancel this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“My family grew up in the Old First Ward,” she said. “I did have plans to come home and surprise my family and go to the parades with them. To hear it was canceled was so upsetting.”

She received a care package from her family on Wednesday that included local magazines, St. Patrick’s Day ski hats, and chocolates.

“I wasn’t too home sick until I got that package,” she said. “I did shed a few tears because I do miss coming home and I had plans since November to come home but all the travel restrictions and now there’s no moving for us for 60 days. So it’s a question of when I’m actually going to get home because we don’t know how long this is truly going to last.”

Madej gave a special shoutout to her family and co-workers from Buffalo who are providing medal care.

“I want to thank you guys as well,” she said. “It’s not easy and you guys are doing the grind and I thank you guys for that. Thank you from Italy.”

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