The volunteer lifesavers in need of a lifeline
With Christmas upon us, most of us are enjoying some festive fun with loved ones.
But spare a thought for those who will sacrifice their own celebrations to keep the rest of us safe and well.
If an emergency strikes, we are all aware of the amazing work our blue light services provide. But there is another group of unsung heroes who save lives on a daily basis. And they desperately need your help.
At the point of crisis, a dedicated team of charity workers transport vital blood and organs across the county of Devon to doctors and medics treating critically ill patients. Without the help of the exceptional charity the Devon Freewheelers, patients would simply die.
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What is hard to grasp is that their work receives no official funding and now they are facing a financial crisis of their own.
Not only do the volunteer bikers work for nothing and pay for and maintain their own vehicles, they are now being forced to pay for their own petrol because donations have dried up.
Charity founder Daniel Lavery, whose own wife and son were saved by emergency blood supplies, has made an urgent appeal to the public to support the charity at one of the busiest times of the year over the Christmas and New Year period.
He said: "The British public are incredibly generous and supportive of good causes, but the problem we face is that most people assume we are part of the NHS and that the work we do is paid for. It's not. We get no funding at all other than donations from those who know about us.
"To keep our service going, to continue saving lives with blood and organs, we need to raise £95,000 a year to keep the bikes on the road. We currently have just £600 and so our volunteers are currently having to maintain their own bikes and even pay for their own petrol to drive blood and organs to hospitals across the county.
"We currently receive about 16 SOS calls per day and that figure will rise steeply over the busy Christmas and New Year period.
"No one knows when disasters, illness and accidents will occur but we are always there to help when it happens. But we desperately need funds to keep going as we are surviving hand to mouth.
"We know our service makes a difference. Getting blood or organs to a seriously ill patient on time can make the difference between survival or death."
Daniel knows the significance of the service from first-hand experience. In 2005 his wife Shelley almost lost her own life when she went into premature labour with their son. She was rushed to hospital in Belfast where the couple were visiting family just a few days before Christmas.
Daniel recalls: "There were massive complications because Shelley had constricted placenta which was cutting off her blood supply.
"Doctors were forced to carry out an emergency caesarian but she lost seven of her body's eight units of blood.
"It was touch and go and I was told to prepare for the worst because doctors didn't know if she would survive. A priest administered the last rites and I was warned to say my last goodbyes.
"I was in shock. I remember standing outside the hospital trying to gather my thoughts when I saw a bike arrive with a load of blood. Instinctively, I knew the blood was for Shelley. I watched him as he handed over the box and in an instant he was gone. No one knew that he even existed, but his delivery of blood made the difference between my wife living and dying.
"My wife did pull through and my son Devon survived too. It was a long road to recovery but all our lives had been changed forever."
When Daniel and his family returned to their home in Honiton, he began to research blood bike services and found that there wasn't one for Devon.
"I knew then I had to set one up. I just couldn't forget the image of that biker turning up with blood for my wife and I knew how important the service was."
The Devon Freewheelers was launched three years ago in 2009 and it now has 43 volunteers across the region.
Daniel was so committed to getting the service up and running he even sold his own house to fund the start of the charity.
"If there was one bad accident on the motorway, it could wipe out a hospital's emergency blood supply and so we would be needed to get more supplies as quickly as possible."
The charity now has the backing of Exmouth-based recruitment business Cross-Deck, which specialises in helping Armed Forces leavers to find jobs. It is appealing to all its members to donate to the blood bike service.
Cross-Deck Director Aloma Watson said: "As a local business it is important to support great causes like the Devon Freewheelers. If we can raise awareness for this amazing group of people, then we will be delighted.
"I was stunned when I learned that the bikers have to pay for their own petrol to save lives and we really want that to change. They deserve to be properly funded because they make all the difference between patients living or dying. Every other blue light service is paid for and these guys shouldn't be any different."
Cross-Deck will be raising awareness for the bikers on its website where donations can also be made. See www.cross-deck.co.uk