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'Could happen to anyone': Alpha Sport defibrillator grant helping equip clubs

Community rugby league clubs have an added incentive to ensure they can provide life saving defibrillator intervention when needed for patrons and participants with the Alpha Sport $500 Heart Starter Grant Program.

The grant subsidises the cost of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) package for clubs, designed to support the first responders to a person experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.

Few can testify to the benefits of an AED better than 23-year-old Brothers Rockhampton player Jessica Allen, who survived a sudden cardiac arrest suffered while running water at a rugby union game in Gladstone in 2021.

Allen had no idea she had pneumonia and a 'leaky heart' at the time when she collapsed at her friend's feet and "turned blue".

Fortunately, one of the players was a paramedic with a defibrillator in his car, and was able to issue a shock early on to help ensure the 22 minutes of CPR - 10 without a heartbeat - that followed until an ambulance arrived had the positive outcome those on the scene worked so hard to achieve.

Brothers Rockhampton junior William Littleboy with senior women's player and cardiac arrest survivor Jessica Allen. Photo: Luke Fletcher
Brothers Rockhampton junior William Littleboy with senior women's player and cardiac arrest survivor Jessica Allen. Photo: Luke Fletcher

Allen was amazingly back playing organised sport a few months later.

The story inspired local sporting clubs to make sure they had access to the life saving equipment and is part of the reason her club now has their own AED, taking advantage of the Alpha Sport $500 Heart Starter Grant Program.

According to a 2020 report from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, survival rate after cardiac arrest decreases approximately 10 per cent with every minute defibrillation is delayed. 

The Australian Resuscitation Council reports that the median emergency response time by ambulance services throughout Australia are between 7.5 and 10 minutes, making bystanders vital.

With the early delivery of AED shock by trained individuals, resuscitation rate is as high as 89 per cent, according to four separate studies referenced in the report.

Median survival is 53 per cent when defibrillation is administered by someone with no formal training.

Rockhampton Brothers Junior Rugby League Club president Shannon Littleboy was the chief advocate for the clubs to pursue the grant, with the desire to protect her and other families the motivating factor.

The junior and senior clubs combined have more than 500 players registered alone, all who bring a crowd of supporters on training nights and game days.

"I'm a sports trainer and out of my four kids, three of them play league and two of them are chronic asthmatics, so it was a no-brainer," Littleboy said.

"It wasn't just about the junior rugby league. The seniors use (the facility), the local rugby union club uses it, and we also host a lot of school carnivals and trials and last year we had the Dolphins train here, so it's used by a lot of people.

"I think all sporting fields should have one. I would love it to be something that's mandated at sports clubs and accessible to all the public."

Littleboy is also a level 2 sports trainer, which she has done with Brothers and Central Queensland Capras, making her fully aware of how vital defibrillators can be in life threatening cases of sudden cardiac arrest.

This includes within rugby league, with the availability of a defibrillator helping save the life of Gympie Devils under 13 coach Steve Daniel in April 2022 after he suffered a cardiac arrest at a training session.

William Littleboy, Shannon Littleboy, Jessica Allen, Tom Simpson and Doujon Kanak. Photo: Luke Fletcher
William Littleboy, Shannon Littleboy, Jessica Allen, Tom Simpson and Doujon Kanak. Photo: Luke Fletcher

"Just the statistics around early defib, early CPR, early ambulance, early intervention show how it can increase the chance of saving someone's life... and it's usually not a player who needs it, it's often someone in the crowd," Littleboy said.

"The grant definitely made it affordable to get a good quality defib, in a case, and it definitely helped us get over the line."

It's reassuring for Jessica Allen, who now has an internal defibrillator to manage her "leaky valve", but she may need an AED handy again should her heart suffer another major episode in the future.

"They're very good assets to have at grounds. You never know when it's going to happen and it could happen to anybody," Allen said.

"I think every club in Australia should have one. If you're having any activity that can exert a heart, you should have one. Even restaurants need to have them, I think. They need to be accessible everywhere you can walk into.

"I'm walking proof that you don't need to be over 80 to have heart issues. Even children - you can't rule out anybody.

"I was not sick at all. I had no symptoms. I drove down to Gladstone (from Rockhampton) that day. I was as fine as I thought I could be."

Brothers seniors president Tom Simpson said Jessica's story showed how important it was to have an AED available.

"Hopefully we don't ever have to use it, but it's there in our canteen if we need it," Simpson said.

Renowned Capricornia region coach and director of sport at The Cathedral College, Mick Busby, said Brothers' efforts to secure a defibrillator would also provide peace of mind for community groups looking for venues to hold their events.

"I know of incidents where a grandparent (of a player) in the crowd has had a stroke or heart attack because these things happen and let's face it, if you've got something like (a defibrillator) you will save someone's life," Busby said.

"Because of the first aid requirements for all your runners and trainers in rugby league now, it's making people more aware of what it can do. You learn CPR so you can do it long enough until someone turns up with a defib, so how handy would it be to be doing CPR on someone for a minute and then someone brings a defib? It'll be great."

Clubs can apply here for the Alpha Sport $500 Heart Starter Grant, which covers $500 of the cost of the QRL AED package.

The package features the Mindray C1A Fully Automatic AED, AED Red Wall Cabinet with Alarm & Light, AED Shave Pack / Prep Kit, and AED Wall Sign.

Main image: Brothers Rockhampton junior William Littleboy, Brothers senior player Jessica Allen, Brothers Rockhampton Junior Rugby League president and Level 2 sports trainer Shannon Littleboy holding the AED, Brothers Rugby League Club president Tom Simpson and Brothers junior Doujon Kanak. Photo: Luke Fletcher

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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