The ‘Community Heart Programme’: Raising awareness about defibrillators in the GAA

By Dylan Kerrigan

Dylan Kerrigan discusses the GAA’s Community Heart Programme and how it is helping GAA clubs around the country to raise funds for defibrillators.

The defibrillator located at Kildalkey GAA Club. Image courtesy of Dylan Kerrigan

GAA grounds across the country are steeped in rich history, scenery, and facilities to bring through the next generations of players. However, the most important item that cannot be overlooked is the presence of a defibrillator.

The ‘Community Heart Programme’ was launched by the GAA in 2021, “which provides clubs with the opportunity to create a bespoke fundraising platform which will allow them to raise funds for a state-of-the-art defibrillator at a significantly reduced price.”  The GAA have also proposed the ‘ACT’ advice for clubs. ‘A’ stands for accessible, meaning that the defibrillator at the ground is easy to gain access to. ‘C’ stands for charged, meaning that the defibrillator battery and pads have not expired. ‘T’ stands for trained, signifying the importance of having individuals who are trained in lifesaving skills present at a club match, gathering or training. Clubs that already own defibrillators within their grounds, which are between eight to ten years old, are still encouraged to apply for this fundraising programme. 

Defibrillator awareness in the GAA began in 2005 and was revisited in 2007 and 2013. David Greville from Heart Safety Solutions, who have been in partnership with the GAA since 2007, discussed on the Official GAA YouTube that “this new programme will allow clubs to obtain a new LIFEPAK defibrillator that is manufactured by Stryker. What is special about this defibrillator is that it is connected to the internet using mobile phone technology. If there is an issue with the battery or pads, the machine will notify the assigned club member through email.”

 Many clubs around the country have already raised sufficient funds due to the programme. St. Oliver Plunkett’s Eoghan Ruadh from Dublin, Leixlip GAA from Kildare, Crusheen from Clare, Craobh Chiaráin from Dublin, Ballyhale Shamrocks from Kilkenny and Ballymun Kickhams from Dublin, are just some of several clubs who have benefited from the ‘Community Heart Programme’ so far. 

Members from St. Brigid’s GAA club in Dublin, also discussed how having a defibrillator “that is left in a position that is accessible to everybody” is essential, following an incident where a defibrillator had to be used on a club coach in 2019. GAA Health and wellbeing administrator, Collette Coady, revealed on the Official GAA YouTube channel that “There have been 42 lives saved throughout the country, with the assistance of AEDs (Automated External Defibrillator) that have been housed in GAA facilities.”

According to the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council, “Every year in Ireland almost 5,000 people die from sudden cardiac arrest. Most sudden cardiac arrests occur outside of a hospital.” The GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee revealed that “Sports clubs and organisations are among those that can play a role in ensuring they are equipped and prepared to respond in such situations.” High profile cases such as Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest at Euro 2020, highlighted the importance of how both Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the usage of a defibrillator are essential in saving the life of a victim who undergoes a sudden cardiac arrest. A Newcastle United fan was also saved by a club doctor who performed CPR and defibrillation to the fan at a Premier League game in October. 

Kildalkey GAA club’s Health and Wellbeing officer Stephan Smyth told that “having a defibrillator on site at GAA grounds is essential for the survival of a victim. Outcomes are time critical. Some 90% of people who go into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital-meaning at home, work, or wherever it occurs will die. Getting the pads on the chest of a cardiac arrest patient within two minutes will give them a chance.”

“When GAA star Cormac McAnallen died suddenly in 2004, cardiac arrest in young sports people was brought to the forefront. This sparked action in our own club when we first investigated acquiring an AED. We also rolled out an education programme to train members in CPR and using AEDs,” added Smyth.

“High profile cardiac arrests have brought it to the public’s attention. Unfortunately, there are cardiac arrests in young people every week. There needs to be more AEDs dotted throughout the community. They should be anywhere people gather, sports grounds, pubs, shops etc. If we are to save lives, an AED has to be less than two minutes away. Screening for Cardiac Arrhythmia in 14–35-year-olds has also been introduced in the Kildalkey GAA club. Prevention first,” said Smyth.

Those looking to donate to clubs who have signed up for the Community Heart Programme can do so by following the link.

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