Garcetti honors fallen Pinay nurse who came out of retirement to help LA’s coronavirus fight

LOS Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently honored a Filipina American registered nurse who died of COVID-19 after coming out of retirement to rejoin the front lines once the outbreak hit the city.

During his daily briefing on Friday, May 22, the mayor spoke about Rosary Celaya Castro-Olega, 63, the first health care professional to succumb to COVID-19 in LA County on March 29.

“Our city has lost an angel and we will honor Rosary by showing the generosity that she did, by acting to keep each other safe and healthy, and sending all of our love to those who are grieving a lost one,” Garcetti said.

The mayor’s tribute came as Castro-Olega was cremated and laid to rest earlier that morning.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Friday, May 22 paid tribute to Castro-Olega’s work and details of her life, including how she was an avid Lakers fan.

“I didn’t realize how many people were watching the mayor’s speech because family and friends texted me and said they saw it and thought it was a beautiful tribute,” her eldest daughter, Tiffany Olega, told the Asian Journal. “Even though it was a coincidence, it felt like everybody was there at the same time because it was my mom’s cremation day. We were able to put her to rest and grieve.”

In addition to Tiffany, Castro-Olega is survived by her husband Mario, twin daughters Tatiana and Trisha, two brothers and three sisters, including her twin sister Rosalie, who is still a practicing nurse.

“Even though it’s been two months, it’s hard for my family and my mom’s twin, especially. They’ve been attached to the hip and now my aunt has to be on her own and she’s been trying to take care of us too,” Tiffany said.

Rosary Castro-Olega, a nurse for 37 years, never missed a party despite long work shifts. She came out of retirement to join the front lines of the COVID-19 fight and died on March 29, becoming the first health care worker fatality associated with the viral disease in Los Angeles County. | Photo courtesy of Tiffany Olega

Castro-Olega was born in Los Angeles on October 7, 1956 to parents Jesusa and Pascal Castro. She earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of San Francisco in 1978 and returned to her hometown, where she landed a job as a registered nurse at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

She worked there, primarily in the med-surg unit, for 37 years until her retirement in 2017.

After hanging up her scrubs, Castro-Olega devoted her time to family and to travel internationally. Though, she could never escape the nursing profession and still lent a hand wherever needed.

In mid-March, she had booked a cruise but it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of staying at home, she stepped up to help local hospitals that were short-staffed.

By the end of that week, the nurse went to the emergency room after developing a fever and cough and tested positive for COVID-19, according to her daughter.

Tiffany received a text days later that her mother was going to be intubated at the intensive care unit at Panorama City Medical Center.

At the same time, Castro-Olega’s 27-year-old twin daughters, Tatiana and Trisha, also fell sick and spent two days in the hospital but were discharged because more critically ill patients were being given priority.

“I was pretty scared that I was going to lose all three of them,” Tiffany said. She pushed for her sisters to be re-admitted and treated since they were still experiencing severe symptoms.

She added, “Thirty minutes after they were discharged [on Sunday], that’s when my mom passed away, even though doctors told me she was supposed to pass away on Friday night.”

Castro-Olega (far right) is survived by her husband Mario, daughters Tatiana, Trisha and Tiffany (second from right). | Photo courtesy of Tiffany Olega

Two days after Castro-Olega’s death, the LA County Department of Public Health publicly announced it as the first known COVID-19 fatality of a health care worker in the region.

To date, 30 health care workers in the county have died from the viral disease with 52% being nurses.

Despite the 12-hour shifts, Castro-Olega never missed a party or holiday celebration, where she could show off her dance moves. One time, she drove to Nevada for a birthday party and came back home the next day.

“She enjoyed life pretty much doing whatever made her happy,” Tiffany said. “She made time so she could be at everything.”

Often dressed in purple attire, Castro-Olega was a “super fan” of the LA Lakers, especially Kobe Bryant, and was a “daredevil” who enjoyed the thrill of riding rollercoasters, as the mayor mentioned in his remarks.

“Her house is filled with Kobe Bryant stuff and she even spent huge money to go to his last game,” Tiffany added. “She went to the first Lakers game after he passed away and went to the memorial that fans made outside of Staples Center.”

The family set up a GoFundMe page in Castro-Olega’s honor and was surprised to see $8,000 had been contributed by friends and colleagues.

“She was more than a nurse. She was more than a mom to me and my sisters. She was pretty much a mom to everyone, whether it was to her own sisters, brothers, or my friends, and took the time to go out and take care of everybody else before herself,” Tiffany said.

Editor’s note: The Asian Journal is working to document those of Filipino descent who have lost their lives because of the coronavirus in the United States. If you know of someone or would like to offer a remembrance of someone who has died of COVID-19, please tell us about them by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “Remembering Lives Lost.”

Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is an award-winning editor and communications strategist based in Los Angeles with experience in content, strategy and branding for media ecosystems, inclusive fintech startups, small businesses and direct-to-consumer products.

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