When Sinead Connolly felt ill on the morning of 28th October 2020, little did she know her heart would stop just hours later.

Luckily for Sinead, she was in the right place at the right time when she went into cardiac arrest, and paramedics and the rapid response medics were able to bring her back in the ambulance on the way to Antrim Area Hospital.

Sinead was diagnosed with Sudden Death Syndrome, a diagnosis that can often come all too late for those who may not be near an essential piece of kit when their heart stops with no warning. Now, Sinead and her family and team at Connolly’s SPAR, Dunclug in Ballymena, have donated five defibrillator devices to local groups and businesses in the area after raising over £7,500 on the anniversary of her life changing event.

Some of the funds will also go towards providing CPR training for those in the community and the in-store team.

Sinead commented; “What happened to me could happen to anyone and over 90% of people who have a cardiac arrest do not survive it. I didn’t know I had this condition until my heart stopped, and I was just so lucky to be in the back of an ambulance when it happened after deteriorating throughout the day and the quick thinking of my husband. I was shocked with the defib, they got me back and I spent three weeks in hospital having an Ablation procedure to fix the electrical fault in my heart.

“My husband Conor and I run the local SPAR in Dunclug, and as part of SPAR NI’s Heart of the Community campaign to install Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) outside their stores across Northern Ireland, we decided the anniversary of my cardiac arrest would be the perfect time to fundraise with the community to get one for outside our store.”

Little did Sinead and Conor realise just how much her story had resonated with the community, and with their support and through a 12-hour ‘spinathon’ in store, online fundraising and bucket collections one year to the day of her cardiac arrest, they had raised enough for their own AED at the store, as well as four others which have now been donated throughout the community.

Sinead continued; “We have donated defibrillators to the SureStart Playgroup and The Harmony Hub in Ballymena, Healthy Kidz in Portadown, and one has also gone to the All Saints Youth Club which provides so many programmes for young people, as well as a space for the Geraldine Donnelly School of Irish Dancing and the All Saints Boxing Club.

“Then of course the fifth is installed outside our store and available to the community 24/7. We hope that these defibrillators never need to be used, however it is so important that people in our local community know they are there should they need them for a colleague, friend or family member.”

The AEDs are user friendly, and will be registered with The Circuit, the new National Defibrillator Network launched by the British Heart Foundation in partnership with the NHS, Microsoft and UK Ambulance Services to connect every device to its local ambulance service and the public, enabling even faster response times and more lives saved.

There are now around 250 AEDs installed outside SPAR, EUROSPAR and ViVO branded stores thanks to the initiative spearheaded by Bronagh Luke from the Henderson Group, which owns the brands in Northern Ireland.

Bronagh added; “Sinead and Conor run a store that is central to their community and the sheer outpouring of generosity from their shoppers and supporters for their fundraising is testament to that.

“Unfortunately, our defibrillators have been used more than we would like, however they have saved the lives of 13 people that we’re aware of across Northern Ireland, so our campaign is a vital one which raises awareness for everyone in knowing those devices are available to them locally, as well as saving lives. We were so relieved to hear Sinead made a full recovery and is continuing to thrive with her family and business in Dunclug.”

More on the Heart of the Community campaign can be found via spar-ni.co.uk, including a map of their devices across Northern Ireland.