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Monday, 15 August 2022
IN 2013, Henley mother Sarah Roberts launched a campaign to install 10 defibrillators at schools in and around the town.
Millie’s Dream, named after her then six-year-old daughter Millie, who has a heart and lung condition, aimed to raise £10,000 to pay for the lifesaving devices, which can be used to help people suffering from a cardiac arrest.
Three months later, it was a dream no more. The money had been raised and the defibrillators installed but still the donations came rolling in.
Now, five years on, Miss Roberts and Millie, who live in King’s Road, have helped install another 52 devices and expanded the campaign to cover village halls, sports clubs and community centres.
And the campaign, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on Saturday, is showing no signs of slowing down.
The milestone 60th defibrillator was installed at Upper Thames Rowing Club this summer and since then two more have also been unveiled.
Miss Roberts said: “Not in Millie’s or my wildest dreams did we think we would we have installed 62 devices in five years, each and every one of which was donated.
“We are humbled that the community continues to support us.”
Miss Roberts devised the charity after footballer Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest during a match while playing for Bolton Wanderers in 2012 and she began to worry what would happen if Millie suffered a similar attack.
She said: “Millie was born with lung and heart problems and she was very poorly in her fours and fives. After what happened with Fabrice Muamba I became very aware of how quickly cardiac arrest can happen and the necessity of having a defibrillator to hand.
“The chance of survival without a defibrillator is five to 10 per cent but with it, it is 60 per cent.
“What would happen if Millie was at school? I was aware there were no defibrillators in the area at all.”
The appeal was launched — with Olympic rowing champion Dame Katherine Grainger agreeing to be patron — in September 2013 and the initial £10,000 had been raised from public donations by Christmas.
Miss Roberts said: “The money kept coming in, thanks to the Henley Standard, Katherine, friends and the general public. Everyone seemed to take the charity to heart.
“Most people know someone who has had a cardiac arrest and what we do is tangible — we were buying visible devices which are protecting not only kids but staff and visiting parents.
“We thought, ‘let’s take this wider and look at more schools further out’.”
The campaign was expanded and continued to install defibrillators at schools, each one accompanied by a training programme for staff and pupils.
Miss Roberts said: “The children knew what to do if someone collapsed and if a teacher asked for a defibrillator they knew where they were.
“After about a year we had 20 defibrillators in schools but we started to think what would happen after 5pm or at weekends when they were all locked up.”
The campaign began to raise money to move the defibrillators into custom-made red boxes on the outside of the buildings.
The boxes, which were made by Total Engineering and featured the Millie’s Dream insignia, are all connected to a power source to keep the devices at the proper temperature.
Miss Roberts said the appeal became so popular that she was being approached to help install defibrillators in communities across the area.
She said: “People became aware that these devices should be everywhere -— we all need to be within eight minutes of one.
“Villages like Stoke Row, Checkendon and lately Russell’s Water were getting together in groups and raising money to donate to the charity so we could purchase a defibrillator and box for them.
“The money is still coming in and Berkshire County Cricket Club recently raised £800 for another box.”
Last month, one of the Millie’s Dream defibrillators was used for the first time when an elderly man collapsed in the Waitrose supermarket in Henley after a suspected heart attack. Millie herself ran from the supermarket in Bell Street to the HSBC bank in Market Place to collect the lifesaving device while her mother and other shoppers tried to resuscitate the 90-year-old.
They managed to get the man’s heart started again before paramedics arrived but he died later at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.
Miss Roberts says the incident highlighted how important the devices are but, more worryingly, that the handles on some of the older boxes are difficult to use and they need replacing with newer models.
She said: “That eight minutes goes so quickly and it highlighted to me that we need another 62 — you can’t have too many.
“What, very sadly, became apparent during the recent incident is that the old-style red boxes had a handle that was absolutely stuck.
“We go round and inspect them four times per year but these handles are not suitable for use in the community and our current aim is to change the 22 old-style handles into the new models, starting next week with the first nine.”
Miss Roberts says the campaign is far from done and she now hopes to reach triple figures, with some areas of Henley still not adequately covered.
She said: “Our golden dream is to get to 100 and it would be fantastic to get that done in the next few years.
“There are still big holes in Henley, including Deanfield Road and Valley Road, the top shops area, Blandy Road and Makins Road and around the Tesco supermarket in Reading Road.”
Miss Roberts also hopes advances in technology could make the devices even more prevalent.
She said: “In years to come Millie’s Dream will not be needed because we will be able to do it from an iPad. Each household will be able to get hold of a pack of electrodes for £50 which connect to an iPad.
“The days of needing community defibrillators are numbered but at the moment it’s still not possible and we rely on these devices.”
As the campaign has grown, so has Millie and her mother is proud of how she has matured.
Miss Roberts said: “She was only six when we started the charity and her understanding was limited. She knew they were magic boxes and if your heart stopped they were needed.
“She has a much better understanding now that she’s 11 and both of us have witnessed a collapse. She has far greater empathy for what we are doing and why and how quickly things can happen.
“She wants the charity to go forward and is immensely proud. On a regular basis we will bump into friends in Henley who say how proud they are of the initiative.
“As a normal child growing up, you don’t want to be the focus of attention but she’s come through the other side of that now.”
Miss Roberts is now appealing for everyone in Henley to take the time to find out where their nearest defibrillator is housed and how they are accessed.
She said: “You never know when someone is going to collapse in front of you.
“The first thing to know is that you call 999 and the paramedic will tell you where the nearest defibrillator is. If there are two or more people one stays with the patient and the other goes to get the defibrillator.
“The paramedic will give you a code, you punch this in, open the door and grab the defibrillator. The defibrillator will talk you through everything you need to know.
“People are still very frightened that if they take a defibrillator to a person who is not having a cardiac arrest they could harm them. They are scared of what could happen if they get it wrong.
“There have been no harmful events because a defibrillator will not do anything unless someone is having a cardiac arrest. They are 100 per cent safe.
“It takes 10 minutes to know how to use one and they could save the life of someone close to you.”
Anyone who wants to be trained in how to use the device can contact St John’s Ambulance or Suzanne Stickley, of First Aid Matters, who runs regular training courses for Millie’s Dream.
Miss Roberts also hopes to arrange courses at Henley Town Hall and can even run through the basics at the Active VIII physiotherapy clinic in West Street, where she is a clinical director.
She said: “We still need people in the general public with familiarity who know where their nearest one is and what to do. The best way of doing that is to familiarise yourself with the device by touching one, turning it on and handling it.
“If you are not a paramedic it’s frightening but knowing your role could save a loved one’s life.”
For more information about Millie’s Dream or to get involved, visit the charity’s Facebook page or call Miss Roberts on 07733 318993.
01 October 2018