IT is not much bigger than a hefty hardback book – but a defibrillator carries the power to help save a life.

The Argus has teamed up with the family of Oakdale teenager Jack Thomas to encourage our readers to raise money to provide each secondary school in Gwent with a defibrillator.

Jack, 15, died suddenly two years ago, and his parents Grant and June have since raised more than £20,000 through a charity set up in their son’s memory, toward getting heart screenings into schools.

Now they would like all secondary schools to have a defibrillator on site, so pupils, staff or others using school buildings for community purposes might benefit if a sudden cardiac arrest occurs.

So, what does a defibrillator do?

Defibrillators, also called AEDs (automated external defibrillators), are machines that deliver an electric shock to the heart when someone is having a cardiac arrest.

There are different models, but they all work in basically the same way. In most models, pre-recorded spoken instructions direct users how to apply the accompanying pads through which an electric charge is delivered to shock the heart back into an effective rhythm.

Organisations such as St John Wales provide training and demonstrations of how to use a defibrillator, the latter as part of first aid at work courses.

“The prospect of using an AED might seem daunting but we teach our volunteers as young as 16 how to use them. They really are incredibly simple to use, most modern systems tell you exactly what to do and they won’t let you shock a person with a pulse, so they are quite safe,” said St John Wales director of training Jon Phillips.

“We would encourage any school or public place to invest in an AED and learn how to use it confidently.” Sharon Owen, fundraising director at cardiac charity Welsh Hearts, which is backing Jack’s Appeal, is trained to use a defibrillator.

“It’s so easy. I went through my training with the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, which provides courses through Welsh Hearts for anyone who needs them,” she said.

“Once you’ve learned to use a defibrillator you will never forget how, and it is knowledge that could help save someone’s life.”

Delyth Lloyd, policy and advocacy manager at British Heart Foundation Cymru said that for someone in cardiac arrest every minute counts, and a 999 call, followed by immediate lifesaving skills and defibrillation are vital.

“We need to create a nation of lifesavers by teaching every schoolchild in Wales emergency life-saving skills as well as making defibrillators available in busy public places.”

l Anyone wishing to make a simple donation, or carrying out a fundraising event, in aid of Jack’s Appeal can send cheques made payable to Welsh Hearts, to its headquarters at Temple Court, 13a Cathedral Road, Cardiff, CF11 9HA, or to Newsdesk, South Wales Argus, Cardiff Road, Newport, NP20 3QN.

Please write ‘Jack Thomas defibs appeal’ on the back of the envelope.