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‘I can’t stop smiling underneath my mask’; parade, neighbors honor nurse in Lower Swatara

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It was just after 7:30 p.m. Monday, and Marco Navarro and his family were waiting, checking their phones every couple of minutes to find out how close Marco’s fiancee, Maura Esposito, was from arriving home. 

Esposito is a registered nurse. Usually she works in the neurology intensive care unit at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, but recently she has been working in the COVID-19 ICU.

As she drove up Nissley Drive toward her home in Twelve Oaks, she saw a long line of Lower Swatara Fire Department vehicles and Lower Swatara Police Department cars lined up along the road. 

Marco waved her down. At first Esposito thought something bad had happened. 

“But then I realized what was happening, and it was an overwhelming feeling. It was amazing,” she said.

Esposito was near the front line of first responders as they drove down O’Hara Lane, which was lined with residents cheering and holding up signs that read “Thank you Maura. God bless,” “Thank you first responders: police, fire department and nurse Maura” and “Go Maura.”

The parade ended at Esposito’s home, where she and Marco have been living with Marco’s family as their home is renovated. 

The parade was organized by Marco’s mother, Joanne Navarro. 

According to Joanne, during the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, everyone was giving thanks to the health care workers. But when they watched coverage of the anti-quarantine rally in Harrisburg on April 20, it made her feel like things were changing. 

“The look on her face broke my heart, and it felt that they weren’t being supported anymore,” Joanne said.

Esposito grew up in Mechanicsburg, and Joanne said she was good friends with her niece. She met Marco at his high school graduation party, and the pair have been dating since. 

Esposito went to college at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. She’s known that she wanted to be a nurse when she grew up because she loved being hands-on and helping people. 

“From the moment I stepped in the hospital, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do,” Esposito said.

At first it was scary to be a nurse during the pandemic, to hear how it would affect not only her hospital, but also her friends and family at home. Esposito has had to social distance from her parents, sister and niece and nephew. 

But Esposito said there’s been support from other nurses and management at Hershey Medical Center.

“It’s still scary, but I know with the community, everyone that I work with, I’m always going to have someone who’s fighting in my corner with me,” she said.  

Joanne wanted to do something to honor her future daughter-in-law. She reached out to state Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara Township, saying it would be a great surprise to have a police car leading the procession down the street. What they ended up with was five firetrucks and three police cars.

“I think it’s cool that the first responders are going to participate because they’re going out and responding and don’t know if the person has it,” Joanne said.  

Seeing the community and first responders on the front line makes Esposito’s job worth it. 

“And it’s not the praise aspect. It’s knowing my community, my family, my friends, people that love me — it’s amazing to have people who are so thankful for this in a time where it’s really difficult. Honestly, it’s amazing. I’ve never felt like this. I don’t even have words. I can’t stop smiling underneath my mask,” Esposito said.