Student Sophie on a mission to promote heart health after the loss of her dad

A student who found her father lying dead on the driveway is behind a raft of measures to raise awareness of heart-related deaths at her university.

Sophie Owen was just 17 when she discovered a neighbour trying to resuscitate her dad, Chris, who had collapsed outside the family home, after cardiac arrest.

“I have post-traumatic stress disorder from what happened that day,” said Sophie, who is now aged 21 and in her final year of studying Human Resource Management at the University of Leicester.

“Despite the efforts of our neighbour, dad didn’t respond. There wasn’t a defibrillator close by, and when the paramedic arrived, it was clear nothing could bring my dad back. From this moment, my life changed. I lost my dad, my best friend, my world. I do not want anyone else to experience this pain, all for the sake of not having the right equipment nearby.”

A defibrillator gives a jolt of energy to the heart, which can help restore its rhythm, and get it beating normally again. This simple piece of equipment is easy to use and doesn’t require training, but it could make the difference between life and death. If used within the first minute of a cardiac arrest, the survival rate for victims can be as high as 90%. For every minute that defibrillation is delayed however, the chance of survival decreases by 10%.

“Every time I hear an ambulance or police car siren, I get flashbacks to that day,” said Sophie, who is from Nottinghamshire. “I’ve become hypersensitive to having to know where a defibrillator is, pretty much wherever I go.”

In 2022, when the University opened its Brookfield centre, in Leicester’s London Road, Sophie noticed there wasn’t a defibrillator on the site where she studies.

She said: “I made some investigations, and found out a defibrillator was going to be installed, but not for some months.”

“After speaking to the University, I managed to get the process speeded up, and I’m delighted to say we now have a defib at the front of the building.

“It’s located facing London Road, because it’s not just for the uni, but for the whole community. There are houses all around, commuters and people passing by. If they all know where the defib is, then that could mean saving someone’s life.”

In addition to the defibrillator, Sophie is also the driving force behind a series of practical measures to help raise awareness amongst University students and staff about cardiac arrest and heart disease.

A heart health workshop will take place at Brookfield on Tuesday 21 March, between 1pm and 2pm. Email for more information.

In addition, Sophie has set up a LinkedIn page called Heart Health in Business, which is aimed at raising awareness in the workplace.

Sophie said: “My dad’s family had a history of heart problems, and he did too, but he buried his head in the sand. He didn’t want to see a doctor for a long time. He was only 54 when he died, and I just want people to be aware of heart health, for themselves and people they know.”

She added: “If I can help one person, then I know my dad would be proud of me.”

Professor Dan Ladley, Dean of the School of Business, said: “Sophie is a role model. Her work in pushing for a defibrillator at the Brookfield campus will help protect members of the School and the wider community and we’re proud to support it.”