A MOTHER has launched an appeal for life-saving equipment to be installed in every school in Henley.
Sarah Roberts, 44, of King’s Road, Henley, wants to raise £15,000 so each of the town’s seven schools have access to a defibrillator.
The appeal was inspired by her six-year-old daughter Millie, who has a heart and lung condition, and is called Millie’s Dream.
Olympic rowing gold medallist Katherine Grainger is vice-patron and Miss Roberts hopes to win the support of Fabrice Muamba, the former Premier League footballer who almost died when he suffered a heart attack during a match in March 2012.
Miss Roberts, who is a clinical director of physiotherapy clinic Active VIII in West Lane, said: “Currently, 400 children a year die from sudden cardiac arrests and more than 50 per cent could be saved if there was a defibrillator in all the schools and sports clubs.
“These children aren’t those who are born with heart problems, these are children that drop down like Fabrice did. They have an undetected condition until that happens.”
She wants to buy seven semi- automated defibrillators, which cost about £1,100 each and only require the operator to put a sticker on a person’s chest for it to work.
The rest of the money raised would go towards helping to raise awareness of the issue.
Charity collection boxes will be placed in every newsagent where the Henley Standard is sold or donations can be made directly into the Millie’s Dream bank account. Miss Roberts said: “A lot of the time when people give money to charity they don’t see where the money goes but here you will see a product that lasts for eight years right here in Henley.
“We’re a local charity supporting local children and everyone has nieces, nephews and grandchildren going through these schools.”
Millie has been under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital since she was 18 months old having been born with tracheobronchial malacia, a disorder of her respiratory system.
She suffers breathing difficulties and recurrent chest infections. She takes medication three times a day to regulate her heart rhythm and will need surgery when she is eight or nine.
Although endurance exercise is difficult for her, Millie enjoys being active and especially enjoys swimming and playing tennis.
Last year, she completed a 5km run to raise money for the London hospital.
While Miss Roberts is equipped to deal with her daughter’s heart problems, she said many children have an irregular heartbeat without knowing it.
The condition is called cardiac arrhythmia and can be life-threatening. It is caused by an electrical malfunction which stops the heart.
Miss Roberts said: “It happens very quickly — the heart starts beating very fast and irregularly.
“It feels like you’ve just run a marathon despite the fact you may have just been sitting down reading a book in school.
“The child goes pale and dark under their eyes and starts sweating. Once the heart stops they become very fatigued.
“A sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage in one of the blood vessels around the heart. It is the stoppage of the heart due to an electrical malfunction so that it requires a defibrillator shock to re-start it.”
Miss Roberts said deaths are preventable if schools are equipped with a defibrillator and she hopes to take her campaign nationwide.
She said: “If at an event they have access to a defibrillator it could be life- saving equipment. In the United States, it’s standard that they are in schools and clubs.
“Since 2010, the British Heart Foundation has been trying desperately to have the same thing. With backing, we’re 100 per cent confident we will sort out Henley.”
The primary schools she hopes to equip are Rupert House in Bell Street, where Millie is a pupil, St Mary’s School, Badgemore, Trinity, Sacred Heart and Valley Road as well as Gillotts secondary school.
Grainger, who has been supporting many community events since she won the double sculls at London 2012, said: “Henley is the heart and soul of rowing and it’s lovely to be part of something for such a good cause.
“It’s a shame in a way that a charity needs to exist to even buy these things because they should be in every school and I was surprised to learn that they aren’t. They need to be there to save lives.”
The athlete, who has known Miss Roberts for several years, added: “My hope is that once Henley is done that it goes beyond that.
“It’s such a simple idea that can have far-reaching implications for people’s lives.”
Karen Edwards, headteacher of Sacred Heart Primary School, said: “Having more defibrillators in public areas can only be a good thing.
“Their success in resuscitating people who have had cardiac arrests has been proven over and over again.
“While there is probably less of a need generally for defibrillators in primary schools, that is clearly not the case for Miss Roberts’ daughter and I would be in full support of what she is trying to do.
“We would, of course, need to ensure that people are confident to use them properly.”
There is a defibrillator in the reception at Henley leisure centre, which is an industry requirement.
Mick Divers, a duty manager, said he was not aware of it having been used but every lifeguard was trained how to use it with a refresher every three months.
He said: “It’s an automated system with step-by-step instructions. It’s such a simple piece of equipment that anyone could use it.”
Mr Divers said it was important to have defibrillators in sports centres and schools.
He said: “Anywhere that has a high volume of kids should have qualified first aiders at least and then a defibrillator on standby for the worst case scenario.
“In our view, it’s not just the law but good practice.”
Henley Rowing Club has had a defibrillator for 18 months but has not had to use it so far.
Safety advisor Tony Cummings, who is trained in first aid, said: “Any sports club where youngsters are pushed to achieve their best fitness levels is a place where a cardiac issue can come to light.
“If an individual has an issue and their heart stops beating correctly, there’s only one thing that stands a chance of reviving them and that’s a defibrillator.”
Mr Cummings said he had approached Hambleden Lock and Phyllis Court Club about having a defibrillator.
“Someone can have cardiac problems while sitting down having a meal or when busting a gut at Henley Royal Regatta,” he said.
“It’s a good thing for any institution to have a defibrillator available.
“It’s a lot of money but not when someone’s life is at risk. It’s a comfort to me knowing that the device is there should any of our members need it.”
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “If someone has a cardiac arrest, a defibrillator is a lifesaver.
“However, for every minute that passes without defibrillation, chances of survival decrease by about 10 per cent.
“It is essential that these devices are not only easily accessible but that anyone who comes across someone who has collapsed has the knowledge and confidence to act fast.
“Call 999 straight away. If you are unsure about giving full CPR, including rescue breaths, try hands-only CPR.
“This technique involves pushing hard and fast in the centre of the casualty’s chest to the rhythm of the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive until professional help arrives.”
To make a donation, send a cheque made out to Millie’s Dream and send it to: Barclays Bank, 10 Hart Street, Henley, RG9 2AX. The account number is 23727610 and the sort code is 20-39-53.
For more information, visit www.milliesdream.org.uk or www.facebook.com/milliesdreamuk