Organ Donation and the world of transplant has got to be one of the hottest topics in the United Kingdom at the moment, with the constant and relentless drive hitting television, radio and all other sources of media to try and encourage signing up to the Donor Register and ensuring people talk to their loved ones to express their wishes upon their death.
Devon Freewheelers are still the only blood bike charity in the UK today that assist with this life saving role by transporting the human organs for transplant, utilising their army of volunteers. This can involve a lot of waiting around, followed by a very long drive and even keep them out of their homes all night. In one 24hr period, volunteer emergency response drivers Jim Robinson, Mark and Ian Hopkins covered over 2,000 miles and helped in changing the lives of potentially six people.
Jim Robinson, a Royal Marine Officer from Lympstone Barracks in Exmouth is no stranger to emergency response work and completed his blue light training with the help of Hampshire Constabulary. He's regularly seen running around the county on one of the charity's Kawasaki GTR1400 #bloodbikes, serving the local community in East Devon. Not satisfied enough with that, when he can't get an extra shift on the bikes, he steps up to the role of response driver for the transplant work. 'I just love it' says Jim. There's no better feeling than saving someone's life.
Ian Hopkins, proprietor of the Kennford International Holiday Park in Exeter has been with the charity for years. Ian donates more than his time, with his holiday park also sponsoring one of the blood bikes, full details of which can be found on his website. Ian has completed his UKERT OfQual Level 4 Rapid Response Driver Course through the charity, a nationally recognised registered and accredited qualification but even with that, Ian wouldn't rest without donating back the cost of his training to the charity. Ian is immensely passionate to the cause and says there is no better feeling in the world knowing someone's chance of a new life is in the back of your car, and you're responsible for it.
Mark, is a retired law enforcer, (we're going to start calling him The Specialist or Ghostman or some other Gucci codename) age unknown of no fixed address!?! A retired police officer, officer of the law court, and specialist security consultant, you'd nearly expect to see him in a set of Ray-Bans, black suit and running along side the president armed with a lazer and a bazooka. Instead he walks around wearing a crash helmet or driving response cars. He might even be the stig! Camera shy Mark also loves his volunteering and has been especially drawn to the world of transplant. 'All the joys of traffic with no paperwork' - allegedly. A sponge of all things legal and training, Mark also completed his UKERT OfQual Level 4 Rapid Response Driver Course and says it's been some of the best response training he's ever had - we've decided we'll just take his word for it. Mark also insisted on repaying the cost of his training back to the charity.
Our transplant work is one of the roles we offer 24/7 and if it wasn't for all of our volunteers it would be exceedingly difficult. Not all of it is running around the country with bells and whistles, some of it is simply moving a blood and/or tissue sample for testing, collecting and transporting specialist nurses from their home addresses to the hospitals, transporting the NORS team from an airport to the hospital, and of course one of the biggest privilages of all, delivering the organ itself for transplant.
This element of our service is extra special for several reasons, one of the best ones is that this service doesn't acutally cost the charity anything to provide. NHSBT's transport supplier actually reimburse the charity by paying a mileage allowance, and that covers the cost of our fuel and the wear and tear on the vehicles. When you consider that our volunteers do most of the work, any remaining expenses are donated straight into general funds to support our charitable aims - so in effect, it's fundraising in a very different and special way.
Pictured above you'll see on one evening alone, four of our response cars lay in wait for the surgical teams to do their bit and the specialist nurses to call us in to collect the organ. It's a bit surreal, because at any time, the situation can change. We can be called out at any time of the day or night, wait for hours and then receive a message to stand down for whatever reason. Sometimes the family is unaware that the patient wanted to be on the donor register, sometimes infection means the organs are unsuitable, sometimes it's because there's a problem at the recipient hospital, sometimes it is becuase people die. All the time - however - we always spare a thought for the family that are giving the chance of life, are also mourning the loss of one as well.
It must be so hard for everyone involved 'upstairs', we never meet the family of the donor or the recipient, but that doesn't stop us thinking of them while we're waiting at one end and driving to the other. It is an immense privilege to be involved in such a roll, and we're in awe of our NHS, the SNOD's as their passionately known as (Specialist Nurse for Organ Donation) and the family of every donor who hopefully get some comfort that the loss of their loved one is getting a second chance to live on, and give someone else the greatest gift of all, life.
If you'd like to get involved, there are lots of ways you can help. Why not join us as a volunteer, we need riders, drivers, fund raisers, call handlers, there is something for everyone. Please Donate Now, as much as we always try to do something for nothing, on most occassions what comes in goes straight back out; your donation is extremely important and valuable, whatever the amount may be. Do you ever play the lottery? Play our lottery - you've got a much better chance of winning and at the same time support the blood bikes. We've had winners already!
Why not have a fundraiser for us? Sometimes the simplist coffee mornings and cake stalls raise lots of money over a year, or maybe your club/organisation is considering a 'charity of choice'. We can help in many ways to support you with your fundraising event - please get in touch with our fundraising team