VANCOUVER -- In the heart of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in Italy, two Canadians with B.C. connections are working on the front lines.

“It’s a really sad situation that we’re dealing with right now,” John Troke told CTV News during an online interview from the northern Italian city of Cremona. “My nursing team is working day and night, 12 hour shifts in there.”

Invited by the Italian government and called by their faith, Troke is part of a team working out of a 68-bed emergency field hospital built in a parking lot and filled with patients infected with COVID-19.

“We’re taking the stress off the hospital, so bringing the sickest patients from the hospital into our ICU,” said Troke who is the nursing director for the operation run by Samaratin’s Purse Canada, a Christian organization. He used to work in the emergency department at Kelowna General and now lives in Calgary.

The team lead is Bev Kauffeldt, who grew up in Salmon Arm.

“We have anywhere between seven to nine people in our ICU. Some are on ventilators and some have just come off ventilators,” she said.

Kauffeldt says one of the most difficult aspects of her job is knowing that infected patients are separated from their families.

“I think the hardest part is knowing these people are alone but we mitigate that….our staff are incredible. They sit with them. They read with them. “

While the hospital is seeing some patients die, they are also seeing dozens recover.

“Just today I was helping a patient ambulate or walk from his bed to the door and back and two days ago, this patient was still in our ICU on a ventilator,” Troke said.

Kauffeldt says it’s a huge boost for the frontline workers to see people go home.

“When people are discharged, we’re clapping. We’re celebrating with them,” she said.

Italy has already seen more than 12,000 deaths and the numbers climb every day.

“We really run into the fire. We really want to help in Jesus’s name,” Troke said. “We want to be supporting people. We want to be supporting a health system that is struggling. We want to be helping a country that is struggling.”

With all the team has seen in Italy, their message to Canadians is quite simple: to practise physical distancing and to follow the advice of our country’s medical experts.

They say their team is ready to help in Canada, but hopes they are never needed.