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A SALFORD-based charity is helping to teach pupils across the country how they can save the lives of friends who suffer a heart attack.

Hundreds of children’s deaths through sudden cardiac arrest may be avoided by a campaign which also involves equipping schools with life-saving defibrillator machines.

Salford-based Hand On Heart has already provided 12 schools across the UK with free automated external defibrillators (AEDs), along with free cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training for school staff and pupils.

Twelve young people die each week from a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), 80% of whom show no symptoms beforehand. But the survival rates are dramatically increased – from six per cent to 74% – if the young victim gets immediate access to a defibrillator.

Hand on Heart aims to provide defibrillators and CPR training to schools across the UK to prevent young people dying from SCA. The charity is planning to get more schools involved, as well as working with a greater number of organisations and recruiting a public ambassador to promote the campaign.

In October, a two-year-old boy was saved with a defibrillator after he suffered a cardiac arrest caused by a pre-existing heart condition. Unfortunately, for every survivor story there are other tragic cases, such as the sudden deaths of 17-year-old Jordan Grant and 15-year-old schoolgirl Lily Webster in the past two months. These are the kinds of tragedies that Hand On Heart wants to prevent.

Little Lever School in Bolton is one of the schools that has already benefited from Hand On Heart’s work. An ex-student, Aylish Doherty, nominated the school for a free defibrillator because her friend had suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed.

Head teacher Phillip Hewitt said: “We will never forget the events of September 2010 and how the training and quick action of two teachers saved the life of one of our students. I am very grateful to receive the Hand on Heart award.”

The campaign began in March 2010 when four companies (Imperative Training, defibshop.co.uk, Laerdal and Philips) decided that more needed to be done about death from cardiac arrest among young people.

Since April 2011, two monthly winners have been picked from a list of nominations to receive a free defibrillator and training. Nominations have come from staff, parents and pupils, often after reading the alarming statistics on SCA in the UK.

Campaign manager Gina Harris said: “We believe that the Hand on Heart campaign is a very powerful way of raising awareness to the problem of cardiac arrest in the young, but also a way of doing something positive about it by providing life-saving solutions for schools.”

Fliss Boobyer of Kent College, winners in September 2011, said: “On January 16, my mother collapsed and died in the medical centre. Having a defibrillator could have potentially saved her. If this could prevent the death of any students at school, then the possession of an AED is imperative.”

Jill Elburn, of St Teresa’s School in Surrey, winners in June 2011, added: “We are very grateful to the Hand on Heart charity for providing us with the equipment and the necessary training. The safety of our girls, staff, parents and all visitors to the school is paramount and this device contributes greatly to that.”

The work of the charity has also been good news for schools such as Abbey School, Rotherham, where seven per cent of the pupils have diagnosed heart conditions.

Gina Harris added: “We believe they can go from strength to strength and take their campaign all over the country. After seeing the statistics, it is hard to think of a parent or member of staff who would not want Hand On Heart to work with their school.”

*To make a donation to Hand On Heart text HAND88 £3 (or replace ‘3’ with an amount of your choice) to 70070 or visit justgiving.com/HandOnHeart.

*For more information on Hand on Heart, or to nominate a school, visit handonheart.org. You can also go to facebook.com/HandonHeartCharity or follow @HandonHeart on Twitter.