Cork biker volunteers are geared up to help save lives...and help babies get their breast milk

Blood Bike South volunteers are on call to swiftly transport medical equipment, supplies, blood, and even breast milk between hospitals, says Sarah Horgan
Cork biker volunteers are geared up to help save lives...and help babies get their breast milk

Martin O’Driscoll, a volunteer rider with Blood Bike South. “We are very proud of what we have achieved as a community effort run by local people.”

A GROUP of bikers transported breast milk for a new mother when one of her twin babies was sent to Dublin for urgent medical care.

Blood Bike South helped because the Cork woman was concerned about not being able to breastfeed after she had been separated from the baby sent to Dublin.

The Cork branch of Blood Bike South operates as an out-of-hours charitable service for public hospitals and medical facilities. Traditionally, the organisation was responsible for ferrying medical equipment. However, more recently they have become a vital source of support to families in need.

Chairman of the charity, Martin O’Driscoll, said they are glad to support new mothers caught in difficult circumstances. Speaking about their recent mission, he said: “There was a mother who was only able to stay with one of her twin babies, as they had to be looked after in separate hospitals. One of the twins was very unwell.

“She did a lot of work during that period to keep both her children going. 

"We did the easy part, by transporting the breast milk. It was a very difficult situation, as the dad was in hospital caring for one baby in Dublin while the mother stayed in Cork with their other baby,” Mr O’Driscoll said.

“Later, they swapped and the dad stayed in Cork. As far as we know, both babies are back home and doing well.”

Members of the group are incentivised by the rewarding nature of the work.

“At the moment, we’re transporting breast milk for another mother,” Mr O’Driscoll said. “She sent us a photograph of the baby, which got everyone really gushy. It’s really nice to get that kind of feedback.

“Sometimes, you’ll have hospital staff who will take us into the neonatal unit to see the babies and remind us of who we are doing this for. It certainly gives you an incentive.

“This is one of the more fulfilling elements, because you see what your efforts are going towards.”

Transporting breast milk has become an important part of what Blood Bike South do.

“We are happy to have played a small part in helping babies get the nourishment they need,” Mr O’Driscoll said. 

“It’s taking the pressure off and giving people options. This is really just one less thing to worry about for someone who already has so much on their plate.

“There are two different breast-milk runs that we do. Scheduled ones from the milk bank in Enniskillen are organised through the various hospitals. We do those every Sunday, with either a collection or a delivery to Cork University Maternity Hospital. Sometimes, requests will come about from other blood-bike groups, who we’ll do a run for, if required. The milk is expressed and frozen at the hospital for us to collect. It’s great to know that we are a link in that chain.”

TRUST

Mr O’Driscoll is keen to raise as much awareness as possible about the charity.

“You would think that hospitals would be wary of a couple of hairy bikers,” he said. 

“Over the years, we have built up that trust.

“There are still departments of hospitals that don’t know we exist. Our hope is that people will become more aware of the service, so we can help as many people as possible. There is always work to be done in raising the profile.”

The team have had some memorable experiences from their time with Blood Bike South.

“There was one case where a hospital ran out of stents while a patient was undergoing brain surgery,” Mr O’Driscoll said. “Literally, as the biker came into the hospital there was a surgeon standing there waiting for them. When that happens, it reminds you that this is serious business. People’s lives can be on the line.”

Nonetheless, much of the time the riders are unaware of what is being delivered.

“You don’t know what’s in the boxes, even though you do get follow-ups with the individual cases,” 

Mr O’Driscoll said. “Every now and then, you might get feedback from someone who says that you delivered their sample.”

No day is ever the same for riders with Blood Bike South.

“We get the unusual calls from hospitals about someone whose medicine has fallen down the sink and is in need of an urgent replacement, though this is quite rare,” Mr O’Driscoll said. 

“It’s good for people to know that we are there as an option, if anything like this goes wrong.”

He reflected on what the charity has achieved.

“We are very proud of what we have achieved, as a community effort run by local people. Overall, it’s a very efficient use of resources and a good way of giving back to our communities.

“If this service was provided by the HSE, it would cost a lot more and not be as adaptable. It’s something we are very proud of.”

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