Antrim hurler Neil McManus and his father Hugh at Cushendall GAA Club in Antrim. Neil is an ambassador for the GAA Community Heart Programme which seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of defibrillators to clubs and make it possible to fundraise to acquire them. Neil's work is inspired by his family experience five years ago when his father was saved by the presence of a defibrillator in the community during an emergency. GAA club-based defibrillators have been used to save 42 lives.
Antrim hurler Neil McManus and his father Hugh at Cushendall GAA Club in Antrim. Neil is an ambassador for the GAA Community Heart Programme which seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of defibrillators to clubs and make it possible to fundraise to acquire them. Neil's work is inspired by his family experience five years ago when his father was saved by the presence of a defibrillator in the community during an emergency. GAA club-based defibrillators have been used to save 42 lives. 

McManus urges GAA clubs to install life-saving AEDs


By John Harrington

When Antrim hurler Neil McManus was asked to become an ambassador for the GAA’s Community Heart Programme, he couldn’t have been happier to accept.

The new initiative is encouraging every GAA club in the country to have an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) that is accessible and charged, and with enough people in the club trained in how to use it.

42 lives have been saved by AEDs located in GAA facilities, and McManus knows only too well the devices can be the difference between life and death.

On September 12, 2015, his father Hugh, the picture of good health, went into cardiac arrest shortly after returning home from a round of golf.

“He just began to feel a little unwell when he was playing and thankfully the other guy he was playing with advised him to go home, just because he was feeling warm and his chest was a bit tight,” recalls McManus.

“I’ve actually never known my father to be ill, that was the first time ever and I had a giggle at him when he comeback in because it was raining and I said you didn't stick it too long.

“He went into the other living room in the house that no one is ever in and he lay down on the sofa and we knew that was very strange for him.

“He has his one seat in the house and if he is not there he is in bed. I just rang an ambulance and said I think my father risk having a heart attack and I didn’t really know if he was or wasn’t I just wasn’t sure I wasn't used to him being unwell.”

McManus rang the emergency services who immediately got in touch with Joe Burns, a first responder who lived in the same village of Cushendall as the McManus family.

Thankfully Burns was in the right place at the right time when the call came through and was at the McManus family home within five minutes.

“Joe is a local crew member of the RNLI in Cushendall and he got training through them and without him that day there is no way my father would still be there,” says McManus.

“There was a second responder as well, Hugh McIlwaine, I think he’s chairman of Glenariffe the neighbouring village but he put club rivalries aside that day and came in and helped Joe out. Thankfully they brought him around.

“It was a scary 10 minutes alright. But we brought him around on the second attempt. We were so lucky. How many times have these guys gone to houses to try to revive somebody, and try to save a life, and not been able to?

“We got very lucky on the day, how Joe was at home whenever the phone call came and he was right beside the hurling field, where our AED is stored on outside wall. He was up at the house within five minutes.

“Without him, my father wouldn't be here today. It's massive because to be able to have him there at my own wedding, and to have him there, a couple of years ago we won our club championship, him being involved in that team and stuff.

“They're big, big parts of my life as well as his. Without that AED being available that day, he wouldn't have been here.”

Ciarán O'Reilly, a member of St. Brigid's GAA club in Dublin, is one of 42 people to have had their lives saved by a defibrillator located on GAA club grounds. 
Ciarán O'Reilly, a member of St. Brigid's GAA club in Dublin, is one of 42 people to have had their lives saved by a defibrillator located on GAA club grounds. 

Remarkably, a day after his father’s life was saved by an AED, McManus witnessed someone else being resuscitated in similar fashion.

Cushendall were playing Loughiel in the Antrim SHC semi-final when the father of Loughiel and Antrim star, Liam Watson, went into cardiac arrest and was successfully treated on the sideline by paramedics with an AED.

“The match was abandoned, obviously, because of what happened to Liam Watson's father, but we met at the hospital that night because his father when he came into the hospital was rolled into the bed next to my father, so there was great craic that evening,” says McManus.

Needless to say after those two experiences in the space of as many days, McManus is a powerful advocate of the benefit of having AEDs installed at all GAA grounds.

“Absolutely,” he says. “Like, every village that is GAA-orientated, the villages are built around the pitch nearly. It's no different in Cushendall.

“The vast majority of our playing population can walk to the pitch. It's in the village, like so many other pitches. There's always activity around them. It's not like indoor sports where the area is locked up and stuff.

“The GAA pitches are open at all times. Whenever the GAA community talk about the location of something, it spreads like wildfire.

“Everybody in the community is nearly automatically informed. That's why it's so important that we have one at every club in the country.”

The GAA first launched an initiative to supply GAA clubs with defibrillators back in 2007 in the wake of Tyrone footballer Cormac McAnallen’s untimely death three years previously after a sudden cardiac arrest.

Hundreds of AEDS were installed at club-houses around the country, but by now many of those may be obsolete which is why clubs who already have AEDs, not just those without them, are being encouraged to participate in the Community Heart Programme.

The programme allows clubs to fundraise for new Stryker AEDs available for purchase at a discounted price, which are connected to the internet via the mobile phone network. This means the AED will check itself and notify designated club members via email if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, such as the battery or pads needing to be changed.

“I think this is the main point of the new phase we're moved into with (AED manufacturer) Stryker,” says McManus of the high-spec AEDS that can be purchased through the Community Heart Programme.

“Clubs will now be altered whenever the battery is running dead, whenever the pads need changing. Unfortunately, we've all been aware of situations where people have gone to use it and it hasn't been working through no fault of the club.

“It's just something that has been overlooked. I don't be checking the one down in our club but if I got a text message to say the battery was dead I would certainly go down and change the batteries.

“That's the big thing here, when the money is raised here and these are implemented around the pitches of Ireland, there are going to be four or five people from each community altered whenever the battery is dead or the pads need changing.

“It just means it's in working order to save a life. It doesn't guarantee anything but you have the chance.”

Where can a Club find out more about the Community Heart Programme?

Communication and a registration link to the Community Heart Programme has already been sent to all GAA Club secretaries. Club members can find out more information and look up their club to place a donation at: https://savealife.communityheartprogram.com/gaa

What happens during and after registration? The Club will set their fundraising target during the registration process based on the number of AED units that they wish to purchase.

Once this target is hit, the AED unit(s) will be delivered and installed within approximately 6 weeks. Heart Safety Solutions (the supplier) will make direct contact with the Club to arrange.