The death of his brother’s team mate on the soccer field led Professor Jamie Vandenberg, Menzies Scholar and Deputy Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Centre in Sydney, to think about how he could combine his professional expertise and his passion to help players stay active in soccer for longer.

Jamie had started providing advice on healthy lifestyles and the provision of defibrillators at sports grounds when he heard about Andy Paschalidis’ Heartbeat of Football – a not-for-profit organisation set up by the former player and sports media personality in response to the increased incidence of sudden cardiac deaths on the football field – and contacted Andy to volunteer his services.

The Menzies Foundation and the Menzies Alumni have awarded Professor Vandenberg and the Heartbeat of Football a Menzies Alumni Community Leadership Grant, to enable them to run a program of health checks for mature aged football players at football grounds early in 2017.

The small grants program, which encourages Menzies scholars to pursue their community leadership and volunteering activities, has been launched by the Menzies Foundation and its alumni.

When Menzies Scholars are awarded their scholarship, it is based not only on leadership and academic excellence but also on their interest and experience in the service of others.

Heartbeat of Football will hold health check booths at events attended by hundreds of players throughout NSW at the beginning of the 2017 soccer season. The health checks and direct contact with participants, clubs and associations will be one part of a strategy aimed at reducing the risk of playing.

“If this pilot study is successful it will pave the way for similar initiatives throughout football and other sport. We anticipate increased health, CPR and AED awareness amongst footballers, football officials and spectators to have flow on benefits to the Australian community in the event of off field cardiac emergencies.”

Heartbeat of Football will also be collecting data on the incidence and nature of cardiac events in mature age sports to formulate further strategies to reduce the cardiac risks of participation.

Heartbeat of Football Vice Chairman, Craig BingonProfessor Vandenberg joined Heartbeat of Football’s Vice Chairman, Craig Bingon (left), and Operations Manager, Deb Shaw (pictured above with Menzies Foundation CEO, Sarah Hardy), at the Menzies Foundation’s annual scholarship celebration, where the grants were announced.

Menzies Alumni President, Dr Adrian McCallum, said “This is a great initiative, operating at the grass roots community level, encouraging people to remain active and utilising the professional skills and experience of one of our most experienced scholars.

“I commend Jamie and Heartbeat of Football for their work and I’m looking forward to seeing this kind of program rolled out to other sports too.”

Take a look at this documentary about Heartbeat of Football’s mission to save lives: