Jamie Skinner Foundation raises £40k for defibrillators

Sonia and Steven McCraw hand over a defib to Liz Rogers, Dennis Rogers and Joe McMillan from the West Lothian Indoor Bowling Club. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Sonia and Steven McCraw hand over a defib to Liz Rogers, Dennis Rogers and Joe McMillan from the West Lothian Indoor Bowling Club. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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His beaming grin, so familiar from charity posters, belongs to a lad with his whole life ahead of him.

And those who knew Jamie Skinner share tales of his sheer enthusiasm for life, his voracious appetite, his love of girls and football.

Jamie's cousin Karen Greechan. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Jamie's cousin Karen Greechan. Picture: Ian Georgeson

His death exactly two years ago today, at the age of 13, from a fatal cardiac arrest rocked the community.

Today the Skinner clan are preparing for another Christmas shadowed by the memory of that December day when the talented young footballer donned the Tynecastle FC under 14s strip for the first – and last – time.

Jamie was known for his prowess in athletics and basketball, but the football field was where he really excelled.

His sudden collapse from a cardiac arrest at Saughton could not have been predicted, but his friends and family have asked many times whether he could have been saved if a nearby defibrillator had been used.

The Community First Award was absolutely a huge thing for us. Jamie might not be here picking up awards for football but he is still picking up awards in his name.

Sonia McCraw

More than 1500 Scots died in the community after suffering a cardiac arrest in 2013 and survival figures are still horrifyingly low.

But when bystanders provide immediate CPR and the first shock is delivered within three to five minutes, the reported survival rates can soar to 74 per cent.

His cousin Karen Greechan, 45, said the family still dread Christmas, although the horror has marginally lessened for them all as the months and years have started to pass.

She said: “We still don’t look forward to Christmas. I can’t face working on December 22 so we will have a family day.

Tracy McCallum (Niddrie Community Church Cafe Manager), Kev Finlay (Project Worker at Kids in the Street), Norrie Davies (Chair of CCRG), Sam Grieve (Community Defibrillation Officer with Scottish Ambulance Service). Picture: Greg Macvean

Tracy McCallum (Niddrie Community Church Cafe Manager), Kev Finlay (Project Worker at Kids in the Street), Norrie Davies (Chair of CCRG), Sam Grieve (Community Defibrillation Officer with Scottish Ambulance Service). Picture: Greg Macvean

“We’ll probably all go down to his grave and play some music or chat and laugh. I try to keep cheerful for the boys so I will take them to the pantomime in the evening, to make something nice out of the day. Then Christmas starts for us, on December 23. We are waiting for that day and then it can all begin. It will never be the same for us.”

Jamie’s sister, Sonia McCraw, plans to pay a solo visit to the simple grave at Craigmillar Castle Park Cemetery, to share a few moments with her little brother.

Sonia, 31, said: “This time of year is always rubbish and it’s been a difficult one this year. We try to make it nice for the kids but it’s not the same without Jamie.”

The Skinners have welcomed two new additions since last year – Sonia’s daughter Skylar in December and Jamie’s brother Tony’s daughter Mia in January.

Tony, 28, said: “Mia being here makes a difference as I know I need to make everything right for a proper Christmas for her.

“It’s a tough time though. I’ll probably go down there to the cemetery myself like I did last year and visit Jamie.

“I think everyone will go down. I’ll spend a bit of time with my dad as well.”

The pain suffered by his friends and family will never go away but they can take some comfort in the things achieved in his name. Since the launch last year, the award-winning Jamie Skinner Foundation has raised more than £40,000 for life-saving defibrillators in clubs all over Lothian through its partnership with the Evening News.

His fellow Liberton High School pupils have organised numerous fundraisers, while people all over the city have dug deep to make sure fewer lives are lost to cardiac arrest.

The courage and dignity of Jamie’s family and friends has also inspired Evening News readers to go to extraordinary lengths to save lives in the city.

Readers have come forward with stories of incredible bravery in the most ordinary circumstances, from grandad Murray Seton who was saved by a defibrillator by his colleagues at Ikea to father-of-three Craig Bowes, who is only here thanks to the actions of staff at Bathgate Golf Club.

The defibrillator they used was donated to the club by former Ryder Cup champion Bernard Gallacher, after he himself suffered a cardiac arrest in 2013.

The campaign has seen a gathering momentum as police officers, rugby players and office workers learned to use a heart-start machine and promised to step in with bystander CPR whenever they could.

Support came from companies such as Edinburgh and Lothian Health Foundation, Dobbies as well as Javits take-away in Gilmerton.

City bosses promised to shell out more than £34,000 equipping every high school with one of the vital machines in February, followed by Chancellor George Osborne’s budget announcement of £1 million of funding for defibrillators, which means around £100,000 to spend in Scotland.

The Scottish Government announced a new cardiac arrest strategy to save more than 1000 extra lives by 2020, including a national drive to teach more Scots to do CPR.

Momentum began to gather as the East of Scotland Football League promised heart-start machines for all its clubs, while Craigmillar Castle Regeneration Group (CCRG) donated £15,000 to buy 12 defibrillators for groups in the local area.

Our lifesaving map of the city revealed 75 new defibrillators had been installed in Lothian by July, and the charity estimates this has now risen to nearly 100.

Karen said: “When I look back on this year, just so much has happened. It really couldn’t have happened without the support that we have had from people like Waverley Station and the Forth Road Bridge, who have jumped on board.

“It’s incredible that the defibrillators weren’t there before but they are there now.

“Getting the defibrillators out there is the most important thing. I mean, I didn’t know how to use one before this all happened. I didn’t know what bystander CPR was. It’s just about giving people a chance.”

Scooping a Community First Award for their hard work at the Scottish First Aid awards last month was a major highlight for the Jamie Skinner Foundation.

Karen said: “That was so unexpected. We couldn’t believe we were even shortlisted. When we went along, we got chatting to some of the people we were up against.

“One lady had an MBE and I just thought, ‘We are never going to win this but at least it gets people talking about the charity’. When they read our name it was a real highlight.”

Sonia added: “The award was absolutely a huge thing for us. Jamie might not be here picking up awards for football but he is still picking up awards in his name.”

Karen’s son Connor, 16, also won a £3000 prize from Holyrood High School, where he is a pupil, after delivering a winning presentation on the work of the charity.

Jamie’s mum Queen was visiting from Nigeria at the time and proudly watched the presentation.

Looking back over the year, so much has changed for the family in terms of how they view Jamie’s death and their hopes for the future, said Karen.

“We were still so angry and upset then and not really knowing what we were doing with it all. I now feel like we have a focus. When I look back to this time last year, I would never have imagined we would be where we are now.

“I can’t believe it all came from me and Sonia just sitting at the table together with this mad idea to start a charity.

“We want to thank everyone for their support. We know that people will be safer out there.”

The charity has around £29,000 in its coffers to donate to clubs – such as West Lothian Indoor Bowling Club, which got one recently – interested in taking on a life-saving device.

Sonia, who is president of the Jamie Skinner Foundation, said: “It costs £15,000 but they last ten years. You may never have to use it but it could probably save somebody’s life.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com