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South Africa

Kindness And Penguins

After six years as an Angels consultant in her native Poland, Agnieszka Tymecka-Woszczerowicz recently became team leader for Angels in South Africa. She shares the reasons why she took on a challenge 13,000 km from home.
Angels team 04 March 2024
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Q What have been the highlights of your time as an Angels consultant? 

A For me being an Angels Consultant is not a job but a mission. It has been a time of constant learning, building relationships and overcoming obstacles together with stroke teams in hospitals in Poland. The most meaningful experiences were those where the time and effort was rewarded by a positive impact on patients’ lives. Receiving a text message from a neurologist saying they had just thrombolysed a patient in 11 minutes after months of meetings and numerous trainings at a hospital that previously had a door-to-needle time of 60 minutes. Or an enquiry from a hospital’s pulmonology department about the significant decrease in pneumonia among their patients – after FeSS protocols including dysphagia screening were implemented in the stroke unit. Each and every message like this has motivated me, strengthened my belief in the Angels Initiative and driven me to bring about change. 

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Aga in South Africa, with Angels consultant Bernise Schubert, meeting nurses and ambulance staff. 


Q Tell us about the first time you visited South Africa. 

A I visited South Africa for the first time in July 2023 as a part of the Angels mentoring programme. I joined Bernise Schubert, one of South African consultants, for a week of her activities in hospitals in the Cape Town area. I headed straight from the airport to Karl Bremer Hospital where we performed a nurses training with extremely engaged nurses willing to expand their knowledge of stroke recognition and treatment. The next day I visited Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital for training of rotating ward nurses. We also met with the stroke champion at Groote Schuur Hospital. Early on the last day of our field visits, I headed out to Mediclinic Vergelegen where we were supposed to do a stroke simulation. A real stroke patient came in so I had a chance to observe a stroke pathway in reality – which included loadshedding (planned power outage) right after the patient arrived in the emergency department.

Throughout my stay, and meeting different healthcare professionals – EMS, nurses, doctors, in both government and private hospitals with different resources – one thing stood out: the kindness of people, their appreciation, and their willingness to participate in Angels activities to improve the standard of care. That was something that left that positive feeling in my heart and the willingness to come back. And, of course, the African penguins on the sandy shores of Boulders Beach that I had the chance to see for the first time.  

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From left: Angels consultants Maxeen Murugan, Carla Scholtz, Wendy Mandini and Bernise Schubert with Aga at the Spirit of Excellence gala dinner at ESOC 2023 in Munich.


What have you learnt about stroke care in South Africa, and South African healthcare generally, that motivated you to take up the position of team leader for South Africa? 

Although there are ongoing efforts to improve stroke care in the country, there are several challenges, like access to specialised stroke care, social awareness and education, shortages of healthcare workers, equipment or funding. Some of these issues are similar to those we are struggling with in Poland. There are measures that have been implemented in Poland and activities that I have performed during my six years as an Angels consultant in Poland that I believe may be useful in driving a change and supporting consultants in South Africa. What motivated me to take up the position of the team leader for South Africa was mainly people. Not only people I met during my visit but in particular the South African consultants whom I had already met at the WSC 2022 in Singapore and at ESOC 2023 in Munich. They’re a team full of energy, passion and motivation to save patients’ lives.

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Team South Africa just chilling in Austria, January 2024.


Q What do you expect will be the main challenges in your new position?

A The first thing that comes to mind is pronouncing the names of all the regions and hospitals correctly – I am learning how to do that daily. But I believe one of the main challenges in my new position is navigating the complexities of the stroke care system. It is significantly different  from the one I was familiar with in Poland. That, and getting used to and understanding the different culture.
 

Q What are your goals in your new position? 

My goal is to contribute meaningfully to the South African Angels team’s success by having an impact on patients’ lives and the country’s stroke care needs. 

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Aga exploring Boulders Beach, one of the few homes to the African Penguins in South Africa.


Q When traveling to South Africa, what do you look forward to the most? 

A First of all I look forward to joining the consultants in the field, travelling together to the hospitals, and supporting them in improving the quality of stroke care, overcoming obstacles and celebrating success together. Outside of work I look forward to experiencing South Africa’s diverse culture, exploring its stunning natural landscapes, going on wildlife safaris to see majestic animals in their natural habitat, tasting delicious cuisine, and connecting with the warm and welcoming people of the country.

Q What are your main interests outside of work? 

A Outside of work, I have a variety of interests that I enjoy pursuing: Staying active through activities like hiking, yoga or going to the gym helps me maintain a healthy lifestyle and clear my mind. Cooking and baking; experimenting with new recipes and flavours in the kitchen is a creative outlet for me, and I enjoy sharing meals with friends and family. Music – whether it is attending concerts, playing an instrument, or simply listening to my favourite tunes, music is a significant part of my life. Spending time outdoors, whether it’s gardening or simply going for a walk in nature, rejuvenates me and provides a sense of tranquility.

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At ESOC with Polish colleagues Katarzyna Putylo (far left) and Anna Kielkowska (far right). In the centre are Mateusz Stolarczyk (Angels team leader for Africa, Indonesia and Ukraine), and Prof. Adam Kobayashi


Please describe life in your home town in Poland.

I have been living in Warsaw for over four years. Life in Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, is dynamic, diverse, and bustling with activity. It is a cultural epicentre, offering a wide range of museums, theaters, galleries, and music venues which I visit in my free time. There are also lots of parks and green areas where I can relax and unwind with family and friends. My hometown is Gdańsk – a beautiful city on the Baltic Sea with nice beaches where most of my family and friends are and where I spend the holidays. 

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Aga with her daughter Nadia (11) and son Viktor (13).


Q What motivates you – in work and in life? 

A Having a sense of purpose, whether I’m making a meaningful impact, contributing to a cause I believe in, helping others, making a difference in their community, the desire to create change.

Building and nurturing relationships with family, friends and colleagues gives me a sense of fulfilment and motivation. My kids – daughter Nadia (11) and son Viktor (13) – are the biggest motivation for me every day. I want to contribute to changing the world into a better and healthier place for their future.

 

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