A NORTH EAST church is saying a prayer of thanks – after being given vital medical equipment which could save lives.

The fund-raising Red Sky Ball event, set up by Sunderland couple Sergio and Emma Petrucci, has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy equipment for Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, Sunderland Royal Hospital and Teesside’s James Cook Hospital.

And now Sergio and Emma are on a mission to install defibrillators in key areas across Sunderland, so that anyone suffering a heart attack can get help in the vital minutes after a cardiac arrest.

Now one of these defibrillators – which cost £1500 each – has been installed at the busy St Mary’s Parish Church, right in the centre of Sunderland, as part of the couple’s on-going commitment to ensure as many public places as possible have one close to hand.

“We hope they never need to be used but if someone falls ill, it’s vital that they receive help immediately,” said Sergio.

“Every minute without CPR or defibrillation reduces a person’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest by around 10 per cent, and with 100,000 people dying across the UK ever year, we need to do whatever we can to lower this figure.”

Sergio, who works for Sunderland-based estate agent, Elopa, praised the people who support the successful Red Sky Ball and its sister event, the White Party, which has run for the last three years.

“I am extremely thankful to all of the people who support Red Sky Ball, which has led to the installation of the new defibrillators in the church, in local schools and across the city centre – without them we couldn’t have these amazing pieces of equipment,” he said.

His words were echoed by Father Marc Lyden Smith of St Mary’s Parish Church.

“Having a defibrillator in our busy city centre church, which is open to the public all day, every day, makes me feel a lot more comfortable,” he said.

“We are now safe in the knowledge that the easy to use defib is close to hand to help anyone in need, which is exactly what the church is about.

“This is literally a life saver, and I can’t thank Sergio and the people who support the Red Sky Ball enough for raising money for heart related causes right here in Sunderland.”

Along with the Red Sky Ball fundraising drive, Sergio, with support from his wife Emma has also organised training sessions to boost confidence and familiarise local people with the machines.

The public access defibrillators were installed free of charge by Sunderland’s Fusion Electrical Contractors and have been officially registered with the local authorities.