Combining a hobby with volunteering to give back

Paul McCann is a HGV Mechanic by day, emergency medical transporter by night. He tells us how he started volunteering and gives us an insight into the life of a Blood Bikes rider.

I first began volunteering for Blood Bikes East just over a year ago now, and in the space of that year and in my experience with the charity, I’m wondering why I didn’t start a lot sooner!!

Blood Bikes East is a wholly voluntary run group, which first began operating in 2013. From initially slow beginnings, it has grown to be the largest and busiest blood bike group in the country, with recent milestones of 5500 runs to date, and 1000 this year alone reached.

I guess my interest first came as my mother and other family members were and are involved in the health service as nurses. I also had family members receiving ongoing treatment in various hospitals, and I myself was unlucky enough to have had surgery that required various equipment and supplies, and it got me thinking about the background and preparation that all these things required.

As an avid motorcyclist, I was aware of the blood bike group but didn’t really know the extent of what they did – a visit to their stand at the 2015 RDS bike show resulted in both my knowledge increasing and my name at the bottom of the volunteer form, no questions in my mind at all!!

My first shift came around quickly, after familiarisation and training, the importance of the job in hand was not lost on me. We carry a multitude of items: blood samples, scans, files, equipment, anything really that can be carried on the bike we’ll take. Our status as an urgent, out of hour’s service means that generally there’s no time to be wasted, and bikes are the quickest and most efficient mode of transport through city traffic between the hospitals.

It’s definitely volunteering at its finest, and can take a massive amount of effort, especially at 4am in the morning, driving in rain, freezing cold, on your second or third set of clothes that shift, with only milkmen, truck drivers and wildlife to keep you company – until you make your delivery to the hospital and realise that you’re making a huge contribution to someone’s healthcare and treatment. At the same time, we are saving the hospitals’ huge resources and money, the idea being that these can be put back into front line services.

More often than not, we’re unaware of the patients we’re helping, the exact nature of the cargo we’re carrying, and rarely get to see the end results of the work we do. On the other hand, when we do hear of the impact something we’ve transported has had on a patient, it’s an amazing feeling. From the parent who approached us while we were fundraising in Blanchardstown to inform us that we were instrumental in the recovery of her daughter due to the efficiency of us transporting samples for testing, and also delivering the results back, to delivering breast milk to the various maternity hospitals for premature babies (a process that requires a country link up with another blood bike group, as the breast milk bank is in Enniskillen) and seeing our importance to those babies in intensive care units, those are the things that make every minute I give of my time worth it in my mind.

At the moment, we have approximately 80 riders, controllers and committee members, each and every one giving up their free time on a voluntary basis. Currently on our fleet we have 1 Honda Pan European, 4 Honda Deauvilles, 1 Kawasaki j300 scooter, and a Skoda Yeti (gratefully donated by Annesley Williams) that we use in bad weather.

As you can imagine, fundraising is a major part of our activities in order to keep our service running, so if you see us out and about, shaking a bucket, please bear in mind the voluntary service we run all year round, assisting the health service and more importantly the patients they’re caring for. For any more information, or if you’re interested in joining us, check out our website at www.bloodbikeseast.ie, or of course you can follow us on facebook, and get an insight into the work we do.

Photo by Jackson Hutchinson.

This blog is part of our National Volunteering Week 2016 blog series. Get involved on social media using #NVW2016.

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