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Blessings Through Raindrops

In his introduction to the first Angels Journey of 2023, JAN VAN DER MERWE pays tribute to a woman whose tragedy became the spark for an organisation dedicated to improve outcomes for stroke patients.
Angels team 13 April 2023


"I cannot thank you enough, and everyone else in your team. You helped save my mother. All of you, you are saving so many mothers."

These were the words used by a patient’s family member to Pâmela Godoy, one of our amazing Angels consultants in Brazil, who shares her inspiring story in the latest edition of The Angels Journey.

If you would allow me, though, I would like to dedicate this edition  to a mother we couldn’t save, but whose suffering can be directly linked to many other mothers living today with their lives intact.

On Sunday 1 December 2013, my mother-in-law suffered a devastating stroke in South Africa. She arrived at the hospital less than an hour after her symptoms started. We had faith in South Africa’s world-class private healthcare system and believed that, once she reached the hospital, she would receive the best possible care. We had no idea that what did and did not happen in the next few hours would change our lives forever – and ultimately the lives of millions around the world.

Unfortunately, like so many other hospitals around the world, this hospital was not stroke ready. It took seven hours before a nurse finally made the recommendation to do a CT scan, and what it found would impact my mother-in-law’s life forever. She’d suffered a cerebral venous thrombosis and in the hours that had elapsed since her symptoms started, pressure building up in the blood vessels had caused swelling and bleeding. Left undetected and untreated, a clotting stroke had turned into a life- threatening bleeding stroke.

For the remainder of her life, she would need fulltime care. And those closest to her would be haunted by the knowledge that this had been an avoidable tragedy.

I agree with Pâmela: it hits you differently when the patient has a face and a name.

At a recent Angels event a doctor opened his presentation by saying, “A stroke is a disaster!” I agree wholeheartedly. My mother-in-law was a powerful analytical woman who had always chosen her words with care. After her stroke, she was still able to string sentences together, but as the stroke had caused Wernicke’s aphasia, almost nothing she said made sense.

The commanding school principal, the impeccably groomed wife and devoted grandmother would never be returned to us. Instead, she suffered nine years and almost two months of gradual decline, eventually becoming bedridden, unable to perform even the most basic functions without assistance and needing continuous care. On Sunday 29 January 2023, she passed away.

It was her and her family’s suffering that drove me to start Angels in South Africa. Initially the idea was to do everything in my power to make sure the same avoidable tragedy did not hit any other families in my home country. Now, almost ten years later, with countless mothers saved thanks to the hard work and commitment of Angels Consultants around the world, it remains bitter-sweet
that we couldn’t make any difference for her.

Sometimes blessings come through raindrops.

I hope that the stories of inspiration we share here will remind you not only of where we are and what we are working for, but also of where we have come from.

In this edition you can read what happens when stroke care comes straight form the heart, as in our story about St. Łukasz in Bolesławiec, a hospital in Poland’s Lower Silesian region. You will find inspiration in Spain, from the first hospital to achieve a diamond award in Andalusia. You will learn how rescue volunteers in Romania find their own personal reward from teaching their community about stroke.

We also share examples of innovations from the field, like simulation training in Kaunas, Lithuania, and a stroke bag workshop devised by an innovative consultant in Poland. We conclude this edition by walking in the shoes of five new consultants who have just started their journey to give even more mothers and fathers and grandparents a second chance at life.



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