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20 Seconds Of Insane Courage

Doing something for the first time often takes an enormous amount of courage. Jan van der Merwe introduces seven stories of courage from the December edition of The Angels Journey.
Angels team 30 December 2022


One of the greatest privileges of working with stroke teams is that we get to be part of firsts. The first time a hospital enrols with Angels, the first time they treat a stroke patient, the moment they collect their first Angels Award.

We can all remember the significant firsts in our lives as they open the door to so much more than we believed possible. Doing something for the first time often takes an enormous amount of courage and in this edition of The Angels Journey we share with you seven stories of courage that lead to some amazing firsts.

When you become part of the Angels team, you can expect a series of rather scary firsts. Your first day at work, your first hospital visit as an Angels consultant, your first National Steering Committee meeting and, perhaps the scariest of all, leading your first simulation training in a hospital. Included in the advice we give to our new consultants to help them navigate those firsts, is a line from the movie We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon. When Damon’s character, grieving widower Benjamin Mee, takes his children to the restaurant where he met their mother, he tells them the story of how he worked up the nerve to approach her table. He says, “Sometimes all it takes is 20 seconds of insane courage.”

In the December issue of The Angels Journey we introduce a new Angels consultant for Spain who has already taken Benjamin Mee’s advice and ticked off a series of firsts. After reading about Esther Rodondo’s first 100 days, we’re sure you’ll agree that these firsts will lead to great things in the future.

Next we share with you the amazing story of a hospital in Romania who treated their first patient with thrombolysis within hours of their first pathway simulation. This team had shown courage just by committing to becoming a stroke-treating hospital and carrying out all the steps towards this important first, but then they surprised even themselves by taking a leap of courage that saved a life. They have saved four more lives since.

From Romania we move to Italy where a courageous stroke team became the first hospital in the Piemonte region to achieve a diamond award in the ESO Angels Awards programme. It took eight months of teamwork, leadership, a simulation training session, and a lot of courage, but they achieved what was previously considered impossible. Now we look forward to seeing how their achievement will influence others in their region.

An event that reinforced our belief in the power of firsts to bring about great change was the first ever Advanced Stroke Life Support (ASLS) instructor training course that we hosted in Prague in 2019. That first not only grew the working relationship between Angels and the EMS community; it has positively impacted thousands of lives. The ASLS training programme has now been expanded across Europe, leading to thousands more pre-hospital stroke care providers improving their capacity for managing stroke.

Courage and determination work hand in hand in a hospital in Salta, Argentina, that has notched up a succession of firsts – their first patient, their first gold and platinum awards and their first WSO Certification. This hospital used each of these milestones to obtain
more resources for their stroke programme, including a dedicated stroke unit and becoming a thrombectomy-capable centre.

But no story exemplifies the courage we see in our amazing stroke community better than that shown by the stroke community in war-ravaged Ukraine. We are humbled by their courage and their dedication to their patients. It is both a blessing and an honour to stand by their side during this traumatic moment in their history.

Unfortunately, as life would have it, while we celebrate the firsts we are also sometimes faced with lasts. I dedicate this edition of The Angels Journey to my colleague, mentor, co-creator of the Angels Initiative and most of all my friend, Thomas Fischer. Thomas and I have experienced many unbelievable highs and terrifying lows in the past seven years. As for everyone whose story is told here, there were moments when we had to dig very deep for the courage to keep going. And like them we have achieved more than seemed possible – who could have imagined seven years ago that a small idea we both believed in could make so much global impact?

We are humbled by it, and I could not have asked for a more wonderful person with whom to share this journey. The Angels Initiative will continue but Thomas’s place will never be filled.

If you, too, aspire to make a positive impact beyond your imagination, we hope that in 2023 you will find the 20 seconds of insane courage that will make all the difference.


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