Lizzie Jones: From heartbreak to heroine

It was a Saturday evening in North London. A tragedy that would forever solemnise football. Bolton and England midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch, his heart stopping for 78 minutes.

It was an event which would change football forever, and should have changed sport forever. It humanised the seemingly god-like athletes and proved that even the fittest among us can be just as vulnerable.

Thankfully, Fabrice survived. The medical attention the star received was good enough.

Enough is not enough though and since this, football has evolved. Emergency medical care has advanced in recent years and equipment such as defibrillators are legally obliged to be at every professional football ground in the country.

Rugby league should have followed suit.

Last May, Keighley Cougars and Wales international halfback Danny Jones died from an undiagnosed heart condition while playing against London Skolars. The player was devoid of specialised equipment.

Trying and now succeeding to keep her husband’s legacy running along, Lizzie Jones heroically began charity work on making rugby league a safer sport to play.

“After Danny died, I got the screening change in rugby league,” she tells Love Rugby League.

“It was out of this world. Every player got tested. I want it to spread down to grassroots as well as just professional rugby.

“The sport needs to be safe for all the little lads and girls who are playing. If anything happens, they need to be looked after. I want to do this in Danny’s name and memory.”

Lizzie could do nothing to bring Danny back, but she could stop another family from going through the same thing and this is what she intends to do.

“We decided we wanted to try and raise £15,000 in the first year. We’re well on our way to that thanks to the support of not just the rugby community, but other communities in the area.

“Last week I made it so clubs could apply for grants for defibrillators. These things should be everywhere and in all clubs facilities. With all the charity work, the £1000 they cost is really affordable. I really can’t believe defibrillators aren’t legally accessible in all schools. I really can’t.

“Down south they have them in telephone boxes and that way, everyone knows where the closest one is if there is ever a chance they need one.”

Using a defibrillator is the only effective treatment for a person who suffers a cardiac arrest or heart attack. Combined with the administration of CPR, defibrillators save 70% of people when used within the first three minutes.

That statistic is the only statistic needed for not just rugby league, but all of sport to come together and make sure that they are legally obliged to be at every sports club, game or school.

Asked whether the support given to her by the rugby league has helped her over the past 11 months, Lizzie replied that rugby league is ‘an extended family’.

“The support has been great. Social media in particular has been unreal. I had 300 unread messages which I looked through the other day and some of the stuff which has been said to me from, realistically, strangers, is amazing.

“It has given me strength. My children have given me strength and it really, really has helped.”

On the 29th August 2015, Leeds Rhinos won the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final with a 50-0 win against Hull KR. Winning they may, but the only winner that day was Lizzie herself.

Singing the traditional pre-match hymn, ‘Abide With Me’, Lizzie performed a stunning rendition and made Wembley arise to their feet.

Dedicated to Danny, Lizzie said that while the performance was hard, it was also an easy thing to do as it was something which needed to be done.

“I’m a singer and Danny loved my singing more than anyone. It wasn’t just for me but for my kids and Danny. It felt like I walked out to a big cuddle, not to people I don’t know. That’s what made it easy.”

Thanks to Lizzie, rugby, together as a family, has now followed suit.

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