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Defibrillators: Man saved by AED highlights work of charities

Sean McLaughlin said he owes his life to the actions of first aiders

By Rory O'Reilly

BBC News NI health reporter


A man whose life was saved by a defibrillator has been highlighting the work of charities which ensure the devices are ready in an emergency.

Sean McLaughlin was taking part in a charity boxing fight in a community centre in Ardglass, County Down, in 2014 when he had a heart attack. Visiting the centre for the first time since the incident, Mr McLaughlin reflected on what happened that day. He said he owed his life to the quick actions of first aiders at the scene.

Mr McLaughlin also praised the availability of a defibrillator and the skills of a cardiac nurse who happened to be in a church next door."All I remember is saying to the referee: 'My arms won't work, I think I'm in the middle of a dream'," he said. "After that I woke up in the Royal [Victoria Hospital in Belfast]."


An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable life-saving device which gives the heart an electric shock when it has stopped beating, normally due to a sudden cardiac arrest.

According to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), there are more than 2,800 defibrillators registered on the circuit. But the devices and the safety boxes they are kept in can be expensive. The St John Ambulance service estimates they can cost between £800 and £2,000.

They also need to be maintained so they are ready to use in case of an emergency.

The Newcastle Lions manage 10 AEDs in County Down

The Newcastle Lions is one of a number of charities with designated guardians to look after the devices. The charity manages 10 AEDs in Newcastle, Castlewellan and Maghera.

Mr McLaughlin said the importance of the devices could not be overstated.

"If it hadn't been there, I wouldn't be here today, so it's very important that they are put everywhere," he said.

"It's a lifesaver. It's a piece of equipment that saves lives. Why should they not be out there?"


Emergency ready

The yellow cabinets which contain AEDs are locked and a code to open them is provided by NIAS when someone phones 999.

Charities such as the Lions inspect the defibrillators and ensure they are emergency ready.

They also order replacement parts such as batteries if they have been used, which can cost more than £100.

In some cases, when the team opens the cabinet the defibrillator is missing and they have to contact other agencies such as the police or ambulance service.

Frank McGreevy from the Lions explained how each defibrillator was checked to ensure it was in working condition. "Using the special code number, we open the cabinet and take out the defibrillator and then we check three things; Is the green light flashing? Are the life-saving sticky pads in the correct place and is the hygiene pack unused?" he said.

Defibrillators are not financed or installed by NIAS and if the device is not regularly inspected it cannot be offered to the public when requested for an emergency.

Resuscitation lead for NIAS Stephanie Leckey said that was why inspecting them was so important. "For us it's just reassuring to know that whenever the call is made with somebody in distress we're sending them to a defib that we know is emergency ready," she said.

"We have that assurance with these guardians."


In total there are 92 separate Lions groups across the island of Ireland.

Marian McGreevy, the future district governor for the Lions, said her ambition was to grow the organisation to more than 100 groups over the next five years.

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