A FATHER-OF-THREE last night revealed how his life was saved by a defibrillator after he suffered a heart attack in a gym.

Eric Atkinson’s story follows the launch of The Northern Echo’s A Chance To Live campaign aimed at putting the heart-start machines into every gym, health club and leisure centre.

Last night the campaign was bolstered by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham who called for a national plan to reduce sudden deaths from cardiac arrest.

Mr Atkinson, 70, from Billingham, “died” after collapsing on a treadmill at Billingham Forum earlier this year.

But quick-thinking staff gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and used the forum’s defibrillator to keep him alive until paramedics arrived to take over emergency care.

Last night, Mr Atkinson, who is also a grandfather-offour, said: “I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for the staff at Billingham Forum and that defibrillator.”

“In my opinion I would say that all gyms should have defibrillators by law.”

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said more defibrillators needed to be placed in public places such as sports clubs, schools, shopping centres and libraries.

Speaking after he convened a Heart Safety Summit attended by specialists and charities from all over the UK, Mr Burnham said: “I am in no doubt that there is much more we can and should be doing as a society to reduce the number of preventable deaths from sudden cardiac arrest.”

On Monday, The Northern Echo announced the extension of its A Chance To Live campaign.

Originally launched 12 years ago to campaign for a better deal for UK heart surgery patients, it helped prompt a massive investment in heart units around the country and dramatically slash waiting times for a bypass from 18 months to three months.

Now, after a survey of 52 North-East gyms found that 80 per cent of privately-owned gyms do not have a defibrillator, the Echo is backing efforts to increase the availability of heart-start machines in leisure centres and sports clubs.

Costing about £1,000 each, defibrillators are fully automated and can be used by bystanders without previous training.

Anne Restall, one of the Billingham Forum staff who helped save Mr Atkinson’s life, said: “The defibrillator is so easy to use. It even tells you what to do. All I did was press a button.”