Defibrillator and medical attention saved my son's life like Christian Eriksen

The horrific scenes following Christian Eriksen’s collapse during Denmark’s EURO 2020 group game with Finland on Saturday night brought back painful memories for one Northern Irish family.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 7:15 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 9:24 am

The 29-year-old had to receive lifesaving pitchside treatment after suffering a cardiac arrest as fans and players looked on in horror.

For Denis McNeill those scenes brought back vivid memories of his own “nightmare” when his son Christopher collapsed during a match some ten years ago.

The then 17-year-old was playing for County Londonderry in a Milk Cup match against County Antrim at Portstewart.

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Chris McNeill pictured with his girlfriend Zara Thom
Chris McNeill pictured with his girlfriend Zara Thom

The game had only started when Christopher fell to the ground needing urgent medical attention just like Eriksen.

Thankfully there was a doctor present that night and he was able to use a defibrillator to bring Christopher back.

Denis said the machine is a “lifesaver” and added the recent incident at the EUROs highlights the need for defibrillators to be widely available and for the general public to be trained to use them.

“It’s vital that we get this message out there,” he said.

Chris pictured with former Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba back in 2013, who also suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch

“I think what was most horrific about the weekend incident was that it was screened live on television.

“And while people will debate whether or not the television pictures should have been cut sooner, or that we shouldn’t have seen Eriksen’s wife being consoled, nevertheless the fact it was live on our screens brings home to me, and should bring home to us all the importance of defibrillators being readily and freely available.

“Not only to sporting clubs but also to wider society, town centres and in areas where they are easy to get at.

“Having the equipment to hand and having someone who can easily put it into practice is so vital in the early moments.

“I believe there’s an automated voice when you break open the machine now and it will tell you what to do, but it’s still key to have someone there who has been trained.

“I would strongly encourage local sports clubs to have a defibrillator and make sure there’s a number of people who are very competent and comfortable in using it.

“In the Coleraine area Davy Boyle, the Caring Caretaker, who has raised vast amounts of funds for charity, donated a number of defibrillators locally to some clubs the year after this happened to Christopher.

“It’s crucial clubs have these and they know how to use them. They are quite literally, and certainly in Christopher’s case, a lifesaver.”

A decade on from that night in Portstewart those horrible memories came flooding back for the McNeills as Eriksen collapsed on the pitch in Copenhagen.

Denis had been watching the match live on television, but he says he “thankfully” had left the room before the incident, which he says was so similar to that of his son’s.

The actions of Dr Michael Healy that night in July 2011 saved Christopher’s life and it’s something they are eternally grateful for.

“I had been watching the game but thankfully I had gone to the kitchen for something and I’m glad to say I had missed the live coverage of when he fell,” explained Denis.

“But that’s exactly how we recall what happened with Christopher.

“He literally staggered forward and then fell on his face. It was quite early on in the game, the ball had just been passed up to him and he just went down.

“Dr Michael Healy was there that night as his son was playing in the same team.

“Thank God he was there. He came on to the pitch and used a defibrillator on Christopher.

“I heard the doctors and medical staff at the weekend when talking about Christian Eriksen say “we brought him back”, that’s exactly what Dr Healy did for Christopher...he brought him back.

“Christopher was unresponsive on the pitch. It was a horrendous night and a horrendous incident.

“Christopher’s oldest sister Emma was there with us watching. Much to my horror when it first appeared Christopher had tripped or something Emma dashed on to the pitch to him. But then we came on along with Dr Healy when we realised it was more serious.

“It was a nightmare kneeling over him while the doctor worked on him and performed CPR.

“Some of the St John Ambulance guys were there and Dr Healy yelled over at them asking if they had a defibrillator. He brought my son back, there’s no doubt about it.

“Christopher then spent three weeks in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“It will be ten years in three weeks time since it happened to Christopher.

“It was a nightmare experience for us and him, and also his team as well because there was the shock when it happened as he was a young man.

“I’ve spoken since to people who were in the crowd that night and they said their stomach was literally churning as they realised they were witnessing a horrific event on the field.”

Christopher was a guest at a friend’s wedding on Saturday so did not know what had happened until he started getting messages from his friends.

Denis said the football community has been a great source of support for his son in the past ten years, but he also praised Christopher for the way he responded to the incident and being told his sporting dreams were over.

“He was at a wedding on Saturday and we were a bit concerned as to when he would find out about the incident,” said Denis.

“He rang us later that evening to say some people had sent him texts and he was wondering what it was all about.

“Christopher is still getting messages of support from the footballing community. To have a cardiac arrest on the field whether it’s Christopher at 17 or Christian Eriksen at 29 it’s a frightening experience.

“It’s a dreadful experience for the entire family unit to come to terms with.

“Christopher cannot play again and there’s a strong possibility that might be the advice given to Christian Eriksen too.

“But for the family, the children, the mums and dads having to take that in and accept that is enormously difficult.

“Christopher was one of these talented young men with any shape of a ball, whether it be rugby, football or tennis.

“He was more than able to hold his own and was a promising young footballer. He played a couple of games for Coleraine Reserves, but that brought his sporting career to an end.

“Christopher has shown enormous resolve and strength and resilience to come through it.

“Since then he has gone on to qualify as an accountant, he’s a 27-year-old young professional man.

“I wish Christian Eriksen well. I’m not sure I could have coped as admirably as our son has.

“He has shown incredible composure and determination.”