Schoolgirl’s family lead campaign for defibrillators

THE sudden death of a seven-year-old Waterford girl could save other lives thanks to her family’s campaign to get defibrillators into every school in the country.

Becky Whelan was on a trip with her classmates from Crehana National School last June when her heart suddenly stopped during some light physical activity. “The teachers reacted straight away, she was within three minutes of the hospital in Waterford city but there was nothing they could do and sadly she didn’t recover,” said Becky’s aunt, Breda Fitzgerald.

Her parents Vincent and Bridget Ann later found out she had a genetic condition known as long QT syndrome which caused an electric short in her heart. She had passed out a few times previously but the rare condition was not linked to it until after she died.

After the initial shock, trauma and confusion, Bridget Ann and Breda, who is Vincent’s sister, decided to try and ensure other families don’t suffer similar tragedy.

They read about how young Dublin man Seaghan Kearney was one of a tiny number of adults to survive a sudden cardiac arrest similar to that which killed Tyrone footballer Cormac McAnallen. He told them about an awareness campaign run by the Mater Heart Foundation.

“We think every school should have a defibrillator that could be used if something like this happens in class or away on trips or at matches because there’s just a few minutes in which a life can be saved.

“The Department of Education should put them in all schools but we are helping schools to get their own,” Breda said.

The principal of a 52-pupil school in Newtown Upper, near Carrick- on-Suir, Co Tipperary, told the INTO annual congress about the Becky’s Beat website highlighting Sudden Cardiac Arrest in children and the Fones4Life campaign.

Run by Irish company Heartsafety Solutions, it gives a defibrillator worth around €1,200 to schools, clubs and community groups in exchange for 250 old mobile phones for recycling. Training is offered for extra phones or a small fee.

“We got a defibrillator into our own school and along with five others in the area including Becky’s school, teachers are doing training next week. As principal, I feel more secure now, it goes everywhere with us on school activities, it’s only the size of a lunchbox,” said Breda.

“This will never bring her back but it’s giving us huge hope, and it’s given her mum and dad the satisfaction that they may help somebody else’s child.”

* www.beckysbeat.ie www.Fones4Life.ie

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