More defibrillators will help save lives
Heart disease used to be Northern Ireland's biggest killer until it was overtaken by cancer. Yet it still claims more than 1,700 lives annually, many of them suddenly as in the case highlighted in this newspaper today.
Matthew Thompson, at 39, was the picture of health to all who knew him. Yet he died while out running along the Lagan towpath due to an underlying heart condition of which he was unaware.
It is difficult to imagine the horror that met his partner Lauren McCaughtry when she answered a knock at the door last Saturday. Standing there were police officers who came to tell her of Matthew's collapse and death.
This is an experience thousands of people in Northern Ireland have undergone; the shocking news that a loved one has died suddenly and unexpectedly. Heart disease can strike at any age and even to those like Matthew who consciously lead a healthy lifestyle.
In the midst of her own grief, Lauren has made a striking appeal to raise funds for a defibrillator, a piece of equipment which has saved countless lives throughout the world. She wants it placed along the towpath so that anyone else who collapses in that popular recreation area stands a better chance of survival.
Medical staff talk about the golden hour when treating people who collapse from a heart attack. The sooner they receive treatment the better their chances of surviving or at least of minimising the damage caused to the heart.
Professor Frank Pantridge and colleagues at the Royal Victoria Hospital recognised the need to bring treatment from the wards to the scene of the collapse and invented the first mobile defibrillator. Now the device has evolved into one which automatically detects the condition of the collapsed person and which prompts the user - who doesn't even have to be trained - on what to do next or, indeed, if this kind of treatment is inappropriate. Lauren's selfless act has prompted Marks and Spencer, where she and Matthew both worked, to raise funds to include a defibrillator in all of its stores.
This is a tremendous boost to those who have been campaigning for the devices to be placed everywhere that large numbers of people congregate. The life-saving value of defibrillators is unquestioned and while they cannot be located everywhere, the more common they are on our streets, venues and recreation areas, the more lives will be saved.