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Superheroes Wear Scrubs

Doctors and nurses in Portugal are going back to the classroom, lending their support and professional standing to the FAST Heroes campaign.
Angels team 08 December 2022


Grandma Fátima has a friend in Faro.

The beloved grandmother whose voice is her superpower and who joins two other retired superheroes in the fight against the Evil Clot, is her favourite character, says Dr Ana Paula Fidalgo, head of the stroke unit at the University Hospital of the Algarve in southern Portugal.

Dr Fidalgo, whose hospital has won no fewer than 10 Angels Awards, is an important ally of FAST Heroes, the global schools-based stroke awareness project that is captivating Portuguese learners across the country.

You might say she’s something of a superhero herself.


Dr Fidalgo has supported FAST Heroes from the start, say Angels consultant Inês Carvalho and Sara Tomé of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, the agency responsible for implementing the programme in Portugal. Her influence has encouraged more schools to get involved and her presence in the classroom has boosted the confidence of teachers. She has even convinced the university to include FAST Heroes in its community outreach programme for medical students.

She loves the campaign design, says Dr Fidalgo who has introduced her own daughters to the programme and to Grandma Fátima’s exemplary bedtime storytelling through conversations at home. “It allows children to acquire life-saving skills in an engaging and fun way. Too many people still don’t recognise the symptoms of stroke and don’t know they should call 112 at the first sign of stroke. Many patients wait at home, hoping the symptoms will disappear, or they go to their general practitioner or call family or friends.”


As a doctor she can support and amplify the campaign through partnerships and activities, Dr Fidalgo says. At the same time health professionals gain an additional channel to raise awareness of stroke risks, help patients access treatment faster, and ultimately reduce the socio-economic impact of stroke.

Her involvement with FAST Heroes has taken Dr Fidalgo back to school more than once. “Seeing the children’s delight and enthusiasm while they were learning more about the warning signs and consequences of stroke is gratifying,” she says of her visits to the classroom.

Five-hundred kilometres to the north, in the city of Matosinhos near Porto, three more superheroes have earned their capes.

From left, nurses Ana Maia, Maria de Jesus Torres and Sandra Martins.

Maria de Jesus Torres is a specialist in medical-surgical nursing and nurse manager of the stroke unit at Hospital Pedro Hispano. She and her colleagues, stroke rehabilition specialist Sandra Martins and general nurse Ana Maia are leading the charge to bring FAST Heroes to schools in their city.

Their hospital is part of the Unidade Local de Saúde de Matosinhos (ULSM), the local health unit that integrates Hospital Pedro Hispano with a continuous care unit and a group of community-based primary health care centres. This is the ideal platform for introducing school nurses to the project and supporting implementation.

She fell in love with FAST Heroes immediately after a doctor at the hospital invited them to get involved, says Nurse Sandra who by early November had helped initiate the campaign at three schools in Matosinhos, including that attended by her own children. Eight more classrooms were waiting to meet the clot-fighting superheroes, and there’d been an invitation from parents at a school for hearing-impaired learners.


In their region, stroke awareness is low, the nurses from Matosinhos say. Few people know what early stroke looks like or the importance of calling 211 without delay. “They may decide instead to have a nap, run a bath or drink a cup of coffee, and as a result too many patients fail to reach the hospital in time.”

They have high hopes of a project that transfers life-saving knowledge from children to grandparents and makes learning interactive and fun. But although the emphasis is on symptom recognition and speedy action, both Dr Fidalgo and the superhero nurses from Matosinhos say stroke prevention will be the long-term dividend. 

“Because the project also explains the modifiable risk factors of cerebrovascular disease, it contributes to the overall improvement in the health of school children and their families,” Dr Fidalgo says.


Nurse Sandra reiterates this view. “When a stroke patient is admitted we can treat them and advise them on secondary prevention, but by then they have already had a stroke. In other words, we did not prevent the first one.

“Portuguese people like to eat and drink; they are very sociable and don’t like to exercise. It’s true that the younger ones take better care of themselves, but they lead stressful lives, and they always think ill health will happen to someone else.”

The real reward, Nurse Sandra and her colleagues believe, will be that a generation exposed to FAST Heroes will grow up to make better lifestyle choices and minimise their exposure to stroke and other non-communicable diseases. In that sense the children of Faro and Matosinhos and other Portuguese cities where the programme is implemented are not just saving their parents and grandparents but also their future adult selves.

It’s Grandpa Fernando who is the favourite in her household, says Nurse Sandra whose own four- and six-year-old can’t get enough of the video featuring the strong-armed superhero. They love the songs and know all the dances. It’s only at nighttime that the Evil Clot makes the littlest one duck under the covers – which is the moment one of Grandma Fátima’s bedtime stories is just what the doctor ordered.



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