Local groups join forces to fundraise for more defibrillators in memory of late Whitby resident

Harbour watch keeper Johnie Wright who passed away due to cardiac arrest in 2017.
Harbour watch keeper Johnie Wright who passed away due to cardiac arrest in 2017.

Voluntary groups in Whitby are pulling together to fundraise for ten defibrillators following the sudden death of a much-loved resident.

Jonathan Wright, known as Johnie, passed away on December, 3 2017 after suffering from cardiac arrest.

The 47-year-old harbour watch keeper, originally from Bradford, collapsed on a bridge on his way to work and never regained consciousness. His death deeply shocked his best friend Ernie Frith, chairman of the Whitby Cruising Association, who decided to start a campaign to install three defibrillators in the harbour.

Ernie said: “It was 6 o’clock in the morning when Johnie collapsed. Some fisherman tried to help him and called an ambulance but it took an hour and 40 minutes to arrive and when it got there he died. I couldn’t believe it took so long at that time in the morning.

“I don’t know if a defibrillator could have saved him, but it certainly would have helped so that’s what got me going.”

Although Ernie’s initial plan was restricted to the harbour area, approaching local organisations allowed the project to be extended to cover all parts of Whitby.

Whitby Lions, which have agreed to lead the campaign and look after the fund, suggested fundraising for a network of ten units sited across town to be used in case of emergency.

The defibrillators, mounted in a key coded box on an external wall, will be placed no more than 400 metres apart. By ringing 999 people will find out the location of the nearest unit as well as the code to open the box.

Talking about the group’s decision to get behind the cause, Bob Stevens, treasurer of Whitby Lions, said: “They’re required, it’s as simple as that. When we looked at the situation and the incidents that happened in the past in which a number of people died, we thought that that was a small price if it means we could save someone’s life.

"We understand that the local council doesn’t have the budget and the NHS doesn’t have the budget so we’re trying to fundraise ourselves.”

With each unit costing around £1,500 the overall cost of the project will be between £15,000 and £17,000.

The Whitby Cruising Association, the Whitby Boating Association, the Street Angels, Whitby Town Council and the Whitby Cardiac Association have all been contributing through direct donations or fundraising initiatives.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing”, said Johnie’s mum Linda Heath. “They need to be visible and accessible 24/7 and everyone should know how to use one because you never know when the situation might occur.

“Johnie’s death was a shock,” she added. “He was my baby, the youngest. He was enjoying his time in Whitby, he was always on the boat and on the pontoon and he had lots of friends.”

So far, defibrillators in the town can be found outside Spring Vale Surgery, Monk’s Haven Café and on the Museum wall in Pannett Park.

Scarborough Council, which has also backed the campaign, said: “We are pleased that we have been able to assist the volunteers in raising awareness of the defibrillator appeal.

“We will also be sharing information about the appeal on our social media channels, which will hopefully encourage more donations.”

Anyone who wants to donate can contact Bob Stevens on 07786 811199.