Chris McNeill with the defibrillators presented to the Milk Cup tournament by the Bertie Peacock Foundation. Included are Roger Dallas (left and Frank Trainor (right), Foundation directors, Milk Cup chairman Victor Leonard and Bertie’s grandson Ron Peacock.
The Portstewart footballer who collapsed with a heart problem during last summer’s Milk Cup tournament says he is pleased his plight has helped raise awareness of the need for life saving defibrillators to made available at sporting venues.
Christopher McNeill continues his remarkable recovery following surgery to install a defibrillator and is hailing the provision of defibs at all Milk Cup grounds next year as a welcome breakthrough in improving vital support in the event of an emergency.
The £6,000 cost has been met by the Bertie Peacock Foundation which was established following the death in 2004 of Coleraine’s former Celtic and Northern Ireland footballer, a founding member of the international youth football tournament.
Chris says: “I am pleased that the awareness about the need for defibrillators is being heightened after what happened to me.
“It’s unfortunate that it took my ordeal to spark it all off but that’s the positive message from it all.”
Foundation director Roger Dallas said: “I was at the game when Chris took unwell. It was a very worrying time, obviously for the family and the player himself but I believe that Bertie Peacock, who was such a driving force in youth football, would be proud that a Foundation perpetuating his memory is taking a lead role in this issue and helping to preserve the lives of young footballers and indeed others.
“The Foundation exists to promote health and education among young people and we are using football to achieve that goal. Down the years we have had several programmes in place, sending young people to Dutch club Feyenoord and Manchester United for training, as well as initiatives where local charities in Northern Ireland have benefitted from sporting equipment provided by the Foundation.
“We are delighted to be involved in this latest move to supply defibs to the Milk Cup and its County teams because we believe the preservation of life is one one of the most important aspirations of the Trust.”
Milk Cup spokesman Jim Sandford said: “For a tournament in existence 29 years, we had never factored in the possibility of a young player suffering heart problems and it has been a steep learning curve for those of us involved in organising the event.
“It was a very difficult time for so many people but we have learned from it and now, because of the generosity of the Bertie Peacock Foundation, every Milk Cup activity at County level in the run up to the competition and during the week will be covered by defibs. This is a significant breakthrough.”
All sporting events in the Province and indeed in a wider sphere should be covered in this way, according to tournament chairman Victor Leonard: “I welcome this positive step forward in terms of providing life saving cover not only for players but spectators too.
“These are difficult times financially but you cannot place a price on a human life and I would urge government to assist sporting clubs and organisations to provide similar cover at events.
“We have all known of situations in sport where participants have not been as fortunate as Chris and been able to receive instant medical attention and the vital back up of a defibrillator.”
St. John Ambulance personnel will offer training to officials and ground stewards beginning with representatives of the County associations, both Junior and Premier squads, benefitting in the months leading up to the event when they stage trials and training sessions, all of which will have access to a defibrillator.
Coleraine divisional nursing officer Andrew Fleming said: “Your chance of survival having a defib on hand to shock the heart in the first minute after a collapse is 90 per cent. That decreases every minute by ten per cent. So if you take it that an ambulance will be around ten minutes in getting to an incident, the chances of survival are greatly diminished by that stage.
“CPR is a holding measure. It increases oxygen and blood supply to the brain until the advance care can arrive. So, the defibrillator is the piece of equipment that is going to restart that heart by stunning it and hopefully getting it back into a normal rhythm again, along with the drugs that can be administered.”
The defibs were handed over at a ceremony in Coleraine’s Lodge Hotel atended by Bertie Peacock’s grandson Ron. He said: ““Having a defibrillator at a game is a huge positive when an emergency occurs. It quite literally can be the difference between life and death.
“ I know my grandfather would be very proud about this development and I salute the valuable work the Foundation is continuing to do which is honouring his name.”
As for Chris McNeill, head boy at Dalriada School in Ballymoney, he admits it is unlikely that he will play football again: “With advances in modern medicine and technology I suppose its probably not entirely out of the question but for the forseeable future I would say football is not on the horizon in terms of playing but that does not rule out coaching or any other side of the game.”