Even in ideal circumstances, a nursing curriculum is rigorous. Studying and attending classes remotely during a pandemic presents an even greater challenge. But for Corissa Amaral ’23, the past year has been filled with additional hurdles and heartbreak.
For two generations, Amaral’s family has operated Amaral’s Central Market, a popular Portuguese market in Fall River, MA, where she works two days a week. In the early stages of Covid-19 last spring, she lost three of her family members to the virus within three days. During that tragic time, her beloved dog, Boston, also passed away.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Corissa, who still has difficulty talking about her loss. “No one was wearing masks at that time and no one thought we would actually get Covid. My grandfather was also in the hospital for about two weeks, and he recovered. But he lost his wife and daughter the same week.”
Amaral’s great-aunt, Laudalina Amaral, 82, passed away on April 14 at Morton Hospital in Taunton. That evening, her niece, Grace Amaral-Dias, 40, died at the same hospital. Laudalina’s sister and Grace’s mother, Juvenalia Amaral, 76, also of Tiverton, succumbed to the virus two days later. All three women worked in the market, which closed for two months.
The Fall River community reached out with support for the Amaral family, leaving flowers and balloons at the market after it closed last April. The family was well known in their community and at Christ the Rock Church in Fall River. According to local news reports, customers remarked how the Amaral’s knew them by name, treated them like family, and that their acts of kindness were selfless and never for any recognition.
Amaral said her great-aunt “gave everything” to the church. The family was thoughtful to their customers, too, doing little things like passing out ripe bananas without charging to make banana bread.
While reeling from their loss, Amaral says her family supported each other. “I love spending time with my family. We looked at pictures and we talked about our memories. We spent a lot of time together because we couldn’t really see other people.”
Her nursing studies, said Amaral, were a good distraction. While she could have gotten an incomplete in her classes for the spring 2020 semester, Amaral was determined not to fall behind. She was able to get all of her work done by the end of the semester. “Professor (Paula) Walsh was so helpful and she explained my options. I took a summer class to get ahead for the fall 2020 semester.”
“I am so excited,” said Amaral of beginning her clinical training at Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River. “Being in the hospital is going to be really exciting.”
"Corissa's resolve to complete the Spring 2020 semester and honor her lost family members is a testament to her strength and courage,” said her advisor, Clinical Assistant Professor Paula Walsh. “She exemplifies the grit and perseverance that our nation has observed in all the nurses who have been at the front lines of the pandemic. I am very proud of Corissa and look forward to her continued success at UMassD and beyond."
Amaral admits that she had another career path in mind when she was a student at Somerset-Berkley High School. She planned on becoming a teacher, but by her senior year, she began thinking differently. “I liked teaching people and have always been interested in health, so I thought nursing would be very fulfilling. When I got my acceptance letter from UMass Dartmouth, nursing just felt right. I’m so happy with this decision.”
Amaral is considering a career in psychiatric or cardiac nursing. Her experience with Covid-19 has put her future role into focus. “Because of what I went through, I know what other people are going through when they fear the unknown. I have the connection of knowing what it’s like to lose someone and the importance of having hope.”