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Coronavirus | Maxime Mbanda tackling a different opponent now

Kind gesture: The strong Maxime Mbanda helps patients to be carried from a wheelchair.

Kind gesture: The strong Maxime Mbanda helps patients to be carried from a wheelchair.  

The Italian rugby international is now an ambulance driver for Yellow Cross

Italian international Maxime Mbanda has leapt from the back row on the rugby pitch to the front line in the fight against the coronavirus, becoming a volunteer ambulance driver in Parma, and bears witness to a frightening reality on the pandemic.

Last Saturday, Mbanda was scheduled to face England in front of 60,000 people in Rome for his 21st Italian cap, but that match, like so many others, has been postponed.

Volunteers to help

Instead, wearing a mask and protective suit, he went out again as an ambulance driver with other volunteers from the Yellow Cross in Parma, in Emilia-Romagna, one of the areas most affected by the coronavirus.

By Saturday, almost 800 more people in Italy had died from the disease, taking the total in the country to 4,825.

“When everything was cancelled in rugby, I wondered how I could help, even without medical expertise,” Mbanda, who plays for Zebre Rugby, the Parma club, said.

“I found the Yellow Cross, which had a transport service for medicine and food for the elderly.”

Physical strength used

After delivering masks, food and prescriptions one day, the physical strength of the 26-year-old forward was put to good use where it was most needed, “on the front line, at the heart of the problem”.

“I found myself transferring positive patients from one local hospital to another. I help with the stretcher or if there are patients to be carried from a wheelchair. I also hold the oxygen,” he explained.

It is a situation of desperate urgency, where, he says, “95% of hospital facilities are dedicated to coronavirus patients”.

“If people see what I see in the hospitals, there wouldn’t be a queue in front of the supermarkets anymore,” he said. “They would think two, three or four times before leaving home, even to go running,” he said.

“What I see are people of all ages, on respirators, on oxygen, doctors and nurses on 20-or-22-hour shifts, not sleeping one minute of the day and just trying to get some rest the next day,” he added.

“I wish I could say that the situation here has reached its limit. But I’m afraid I have to say that's not the case.”

No medical experience

Mbanda has no medical experience, but he is working with the support of his girlfriend and his father, a surgeon in Milan, “also on the front line.”

Mbanda has had to become a psychologist in contact with patients put in wards “where death is the order of the day”.

“When you see the look in their eyes... even if they can’t speak, they communicate with the eyes and they tell you things you can’t imagine,” he said.

“They hear the alarms, the doctors and nurses running from one ward to the next. The first person I collected from the hospital told me that he had been there for three hours when the neighbour in the next bed died. And during the night, two other women died in his room. He had never seen anyone die,” Mbanda narrated.

“I started eight days ago, without a day’s break and with shifts of 12 or 13 hours. But faced with what I see in the infectious disease rooms, I tell myself that I can’t be tired,” he said.

Accustomed, as an Italian international, to tackling stronger opponents, Mbanda said he won’t give up.

“As long as I'm strong, I'll keep going. I'm here and I'm staying here. As long as there's an emergency, I'm here and I'm staying here.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 6:38:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/coronavirus-maxime-mbanda-tackling-a-different-opponent-now/article31156724.ece

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