A FAMILY touched by the tragedy of sudden cardiac arrest have launched a fundraising campaign to provide lifesaving equipment in the North East community where they live.
Relatives of father-of-two Neil Best, who collapsed and died at his home in Dudley near Cramlington a decade ago aged 32, have already raised enough money to buy seven defibrillators for use in the area.
Yesterday the first of them was handed over to Fordley Primary School in Dudley by former Newcastle United and England star Peter Beardsley, who is backing the family’s campaign to install the lifesaving machines.
Neil, a former team mate of Alan Shearer in the Cramlington team which won the Northumberland Junior Cup, died in 2003.
His sister Christine Stephenson and widow Kelly recently decided to provide defibrillators in his memory after discovering the Arrhythmia Alliance’s Hearts and Goals campaign.
The campaign is fronted by former Bolton Wanderers star Fabrice Muamba, who almost died when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed on the pitch during an FA Cup tie at Spurs’ ground in March last year.
Neil’s family are all massive Newcastle United fans and were determined to support the Hearts and Goals campaign as a tribute to him.
They decided to install the first defibrillator at Fordley Primary, which has paid half of the ï¿½950 cost, because lots of family members have been, or still are, pupils there.
Yesterday Beardsley officially handed the machine over at a special pupils’ assembly.
He said: “What Christine and her family are doing is fantastic, and I’m proud and very happy to do anything I can to help. They have been affected personally by this condition and having defibrillators in places like schools is just an amazing thing.
“What happened to Fabrice Muamba has massively raised public awareness of sudden cardiac arrest. This can affect anyone but you never thought it would happen to a professional football player. For him to survive the way he did was incredible.
“We hope these defibrillators never have to be used, but if they did save someone’s life it would be brilliant.”
Christine, 40, who works for Cramlington cake company Symphony in Sugar, said: “We have all been personally affected by this and know how cruel sudden cardiac arrest can be. It took Neil away from us 10 years ago and we have had to live with it ever since.
“When we saw the Hearts and Goals campaign we just knew we had to get involved in that. The football link with Fabrice just added to it, because we are all such big football fans and because of what happened to Neil. We already have plans to launch more defibrillators in the community.
“They are so easy to use and can save a life. I want the community to be protected so that if anyone does collapse they will be protected.
“Neil wasn’t able to have that chance but somebody else might. It’s a fantastic legacy for him.”
Defibrillators are used to shock people’s hearts back into normal rhythm if they suffer a cardiac arrest. They increase the chance of surviving from 5% to 50%.
Trudie Lobban, chief executive of the Arrhythmia Alliance, said: “Christine and her family are inspirational. They have taken the tragic death of Neil and turned it into something positive.”