Arguably, the portable defibrillator is one of mankind's most important inventions, responsible for saving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives throughout the world. It is used to treat certain types of cardiac arrest by delivering a short, electrical shock to restore the heart's normal rhythm.
Fittingly, given the high incidence of heart disease in Northern Ireland, it is an invention which owes its existence to the imagination of Professor Frank Pantridge and colleagues from the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast who first took the technology from the confines of hospital wards to treat patients where they collapsed.
Professor Pantridge, who died in 2004, devoted much of his later life to further developing and refining the technology in pursuit of a dream that a defibrillator would be sited everywhere where people would congregate, from theatres to sports grounds to outdoor festivals. He would be delighted at the imagination shown by the village of Crossgar which has converted a traditional telephone kiosk into the housing for an automated defibrillator.
Anyone with even a basic knowledge of first aid can use the device simply by dialling 999 and following the instructions given to them. The technology has advanced to the stage where the device can do most of the work and deliver the lifesaving electrical charge if that is deemed the appropriate action. Thanks to collaboration between Queen's University, the local GP and the Red Cross, many local people are being trained in first aid and the use of the equipment.
This is a project which should be rolled out across the province. Statistics show that only one in 10 people who suffer a heart attack outside hospital survive. That mortality rate could be lessened if more defibrillators were sited strategically and more people trained in their use. While the technology is not appropriate for all cases, it can be a lifesaver in the right circumstances. Professor Pantridge and his colleagues never really got the acclaim their pioneering work deserved. To see this technology made even more widely available would be a fitting legacy.