A DEFIBRILLATOR support group has held its first ever presentation evening to discuss plans for the present and the future.
The group is responsible for raising cash to provide the life saving equipment at venues across Bolton. And, as Will Titterington reports, they are looking to spread the word.
A mountain of cardboard boxes stood on top of one another on the stage of King’s Church forming a triangle.
To all appearances, they were just boxes. Except these ones were special – they contained defibrillators.
In other words, boxed up, hidden beneath the muted colour of the cardboard, were magical little machines that will sometime soon save hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives.
Bolton Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD) Support Group, joined by a 150 strong audience, including supporters and sponsors, descended on King’s Church, for what was to be their very first Defibrillator Presentation Evening, where 31 Automated External Defibrillators were donated to various schools, community groups and sports clubs throughout Bolton.
It was the biggest collective donation the group has made since it created “Defibs4Bolton” in 2012, a campaign aimed at supplying Bolton with a healthy source of defibrillators.
Aptly enough, the first defibrillator of the night was handed out to King’s Church, the gracious hosts. The final defibrillator that was handed out on the night, presented by David Openshaw to Plodder Lane Conversative Club, was the 62nd the support group has donated since the very first was handed out just two years ago.
It represents an incredible achievement, one which chief fundraiser Tracey Wilkinson recognises would not be possible without the substantial support the group receive from members of the local community, as well as sponsors.
“We couldn’t have done it without sponsors,” she said. “Sponsors are important. We can’t make this kind of money without them.”
The kind of money Mrs Wilkinson is talking about includes the £12,500 raised by the recent Heart of Bolton Ball, which ultimately made Wednesday night’s donation extravaganza possible.
It was a night of smiles and real feelings of achievement and community involvement. Mark Ray, of Ravat & Ray, who presented a defibrillator to five local sports clubs, says that and his company are “proud to be associated with such a fantastic charity,” with Tracey Garde, speaking on behalf of Team Eagley Bank, who donated to four schools including Sharples high school, adding: “I feel privileged and honoured to be here tonight.”
There were many other testaments like Mr Ray’s and Mrs Garde’s. Dougie Tobutt, an individual supporter, has ran 125 marathons throughout his life, with his 125th taking place a few weeks ago when he competed in the Athens marathon.
Each marathon he runs is for a local charity. He said: “Once I’d seen the kind of work Tracey and the gang were doing, it was a no brainer for me. This year I’d be doing my 125th for them.’
But he, like everyone connected to the ICD group, recognised that the night was not just a cause for celebration, nor a night simply of donations.
It was about raising awareness too. Raising awareness that 82,000 people in the UK suffer a cardiac arrest each year. Raising awareness that, not only does every school, every sports and community club in the UK need a defibrillator – they also need to know how to use them.
“Training is crucial,” added Mr Ray. “You can have these boxes sat there, but you need to know how to use them.”
As though taking a cue from Mr Ray’s advice, the jovial paramedic duo, Will Hughes and Shaun Gerrard – who is now the face of “Defib4Wigan” – set about showing the audience what to do when someone near you suffers a cardiac arrest, and how to use a defibrillator.
“You just need to listen to its automated voice and follow the instructions. It will tell you what to do, when to do, and how to do it.”
With currently less than 5% of those who suffer cardiac arrest surviving, the pair’s advice is much needed. What is needed just as much is a spreading of the word.
Thanks to the success of Bolton ICD, more and more people are becoming aware of the need for defibrillators. So far, Bolton ICD has inspired nearby sister campaigns, Defib4Wigan and Defib4Bury.
But knowledge on the subject is still poor, with the UK’s survival rate of sudden cardiac arrest among the poorest in the developed world. Forging bonds with local communities is important, said Mrs Wilkinson, but she knows that, if Bolton are to be the real leaders in raising awareness of the dangers of sudden cardiac arrest, the word needs to spread beyond the town – it needs to become national.
For this reason, Bolton ICD is heading down to London in January, along with team members from North West Ambulance, to lobby members of parliament on the subject of mandatory defibrillators in public places.
Julie Hilling, local MP, who rushed to King’s Church from London to show her support, also knows the value of raising nationwide awareness, appealing to the audience to write to our MP’s.
She said: “If only somebody nearby you knew what to do if you suffered a cardiac arrest. It shouldn’t be a case of getting lucky.
“It should be a case of someone near you, in this country, knowing what to do. If we all knew what to do, think how many lives could be saved.”
Mrs Wilkinson expanded on the subject of spreading the news throughout the country, adding: “We’ve now donated our first defibrillators to Bury and Wigan, so we’re spreading.
“We do want Bolton to be the first town to have a defibrillator in all their schools and we won’t stop until we’ve done that.”
This kind of determined attitude is felt through the whole community of Bolton ICD and its supporters. Throughout the evening, an array of stories and anecdotes were told, with people revealing their reasons for getting behind the support group.
But at the heart of everything was the message that this is simply the start, and that no one involved in the group can afford to rest on their laurels.
“We’re not asking people to do something massive,” said Mrs Wilkinson, appealing for more help. “It can be something as simple as a retweet, or just telling people about our fundraising events. Whatever talent you have, come onboard and help us.”
The group may have donated 62 defibrillators in just two years, but they already have their eyes on the future, knowing that if we are to be safer as a town, word has to keep spreading.
Mrs Wilkinson added: “Next years’ target is a hundred,” a statement that was met with a round of applause.
All in all, as much as anything, the night was a celebration. It was a celebration that Bolton is fast becoming the safest town in the UK in terms of access to life-saving defibrillators.
It was a celebration of life. Bolton is leading the way; it is showing everyone what needs to be done. It is showing them what can be done. What has to be done.
Support group meetings are held throughout the year, with Bolton ICD relying on public donations, as well as fundraising events and sponsorship to purchase their defibrillators. To find out more, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Story by Will Titterington
Photograph by Daniel Eden from Eden Photography