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Stormont sets aside £250,000 a year to teach resuscitation methods that saves lives like those of Wendy and Lynda

By Lesley Houston

A team of first aid specialists is to be set up to teach the public how to save the lives of those suffering cardiac arrest in public places, the Health Minister has announced.

Simon Hamilton said £250,000 a year would be spent on community resuscitation development officers, as they teach the livesaving skills of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillator use.

The minister said the team will instruct people in these "two critical interventions".

Survival rates are highest in places such as Seattle in Washington state, where more people are trained.

"Carrying out early CPR can double a casualty's chances of survival," said Mr Hamilton.

Almost all GAA clubs in Ireland now have access to a defibrillator following the sudden death of Cormac McAnallen in 2004. The Tyrone GAA captain passed away at the age of 24 from an undetected heart condition.

Heart attacks kill six people of working age here every week, according to research by the British Heart Foundation NI.

Statistics showed that 314 people aged under 65 died from heart attacks in Northern Ireland in 2014.

Each year around 3,500 people are admitted to hospital in the province with a heart attack.

And 1,300 people here suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Only 10% of these survive.

For every minute that passes in cardiac arrest before defibrillation, the chances of survival are reduced by about 10%.

Lisburn woman Lynda Donaldson recently told the Belfast Telegraph how her life was saved when her heart suddenly stopped as she walked along a street in Saintfield in 2011.

She was saved by school nurse Michelle McAvoy and first aid trainer Phil Batt, who both happened to be passing on the road at the time.

Since then Lynda has devoted her free time to learning CPR skills, and now teaches them to groups through the Heart Start Programme with the British Heart Foundation.

Lynda said: "My message is simple.

"If you learn how to do CPR the chances are that the person who you will help will be someone that you know and love.

"I was saved by strangers, but that is a rarity."

East Belfast woman Wendy Cunningham also suffered cardiac arrest while she was enjoying a swim at Templemore Baths in 2012.

Her heart stopped beating for 20 minutes.

Luckily, fellow swimmers were able to perform CPR and a nearby paramedic who rushed to the scene used a defibrillator until an ambulance arrived - action that saved her life.

"I am incredibly lucky to be alive today," the Cregagh woman said.

"I have had more surgery, but I'm back to my dancing, cycling, working, doing everything.

"My experience has made me appreciate the important things, like turning 40.

"I must be one of only a few people to be happy about turning 40."

The Health Minister said the key to survival was swift action by bystanders who can step in to perform CPR or can use a defibrillator to keep the person alive until an ambulance gets there.

"We need to raise awareness, increase the number of people with CPR training and encourage members of the public to intervene in the event of a cardiac arrest," said Mr Hamilton.

"I would encourage everyone to take the time to learn CPR.

"It's surprising how straightforward it is, and you never know when someone will need you to have those skills."

The new training courses will equip people with the skills to recognise someone having a cardiac arrest, the basics of CPR with practice sessions on a training mannequin, and tips on calling for help and asking if a defibrillator machine is available.

Seattle in the US has better cardiac arrest survival rates than many other areas thanks to the city's Shockingly Simple campaign.

It trains citizens in the use of portable defibrillators.

The devices send a controlled electric shock to a patient's chest to bring the heart back to its normal rhythm.

The lifesaving equipment was invented in 1965 by the late Co Down cardiologist Professor Frank Pantridge, who worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital and was later a researcher at Queen's University in Belfast.

He died in 2004 aged 88.

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