Hometown Heroes: Volunteering for Blood Bike South taught Conor to appreciate all he has

Blood Bike South’s Conor Hemlock tells Roisin Burke why he volunteers to transport blood, human milk, and PPE to and from hospitals
Hometown Heroes: Volunteering for Blood Bike South taught Conor to appreciate all he has

Blood Bike South volunteer Conor Hemlock from Kinsale.

FROM needing assistance to offering the very help he once received, Blood Bike South (BBS) volunteer Conor Hemlock joined the charitable organisation in 2019.

BBS assists public hospitals and other medical facilities by providing a voluntary motorcycle transport service for medical materials on an out-of-hours basis.

Chatting about the service, Conor explained how it works.

“BBS runs five nights a week and 24 hours on the weekends. Two volunteers are rostered on during those times, one to service the city hospitals and the other available for longer trips outside the city, to the likes of Temple Street Dublin, University Hospital Limerick, or Kilbeggan Co Westmeath, if human milk is required.

“On city cover, you’d expect to range from three to seven callouts a night till 7am. With careful planning by the controller, one round trip out of town suffices.”

Getting involved

Describing how he got involved, Conor, 40, said it was thanks to his son.

“When our son was born back in 2013, there were some complications during the delivery. I recall leaving the theatre and following the incubator through the corridor of the CUMH [Cork University Maternity Hospital] towards neo [the neonatal unit].

“I was somewhat overwhelmed as to what was exactly happening but I remember seeing this figure — biker boots, leathers, high-vis — carrying a large green box and thinking briefly, this is an odd place for a biker.

“I didn’t know at the time, but he was delivering human milk, which my son was going to avail of over the following days.”

While his son somewhat instigated his volunteering career, Conor said he would always have been brought up to look out for others.

“I guess it was instilled from an early age, growing up in the country — helping out at home, calling to elderly family and neighbours to check if they were OK, needed anything, or just some company.

“Also, growing up in the countryside during those early years is where I first started riding motorcycles around fields and over some ditches so, as I got a little older, I combined the two — helping those we as a group can help and the passion of riding motorcycles.”

Charity members

Describing the members of the charity, Conor, who is a pharmaceutical technician by day, said they were “a great bunch”.

“BBS are a great bunch, always on hand to help each other out, as well as answering the call to help a stranger out. The organisation is 100% run on donations, no government funding, no subsidies, and no one member receives any gratuity for their involvement in the group.

“Each person who jumps on a bike on those cold winter mornings to help someone who needs it is doing it because they can and they want to. There is no other motivation there.”

Conor said he has learned a lot from being a part of the crucial service the charity offers.

“It has taught me to appreciate what I have, health especially. I have visited the homes of some very sick kids over the last few years, met the kids, spoken to their parents, and have been overwhelmed at how these people cope, their spirit, their positivity, so appreciative of our assistance.

“I get to ride away though, alone with my thoughts, about the family I’ve just met and the hardships they are enduring, reflecting on my own life and family, appreciating that those around me are not enduring the same hardships.”

The BBS volunteer said he was very aware of the importance of the work he was doing.

“When we get a call, we know that someone is looking for our help. There are urgent calls put out most days of the week asking if any member is free to do a run. Accidents happen, people have urgent tests and want results, but these can only be tested elsewhere; specialist medical equipment is required but needs to be transferred from another hospital.

“We can help make these requests happen, quickly and efficiently. Personally, on each trip on that bike, I know that somewhere at the end of my journey there will be someone waiting for what I have on board.”

Pandemic demand

Conor said that, since the pandemic, the service has been in high demand.

“Covid certainly made us busier. Initially there was no testing in Cork when the first cases were identified. Seven nights a week, for months, all samples were transferred to Dublin each night for testing. During the day we were moving PPE across the city and county.

“Mums of newborns were sent home from the hospital to avoid contracting the virus, but sadly their baby had to stay admitted. There were 5km lockdowns, but we called to the parents, collected their expressed milk and delivered it to the hospital to give the child the best chance. We are certainly being utilised more now as people become aware that we are here and this is what we do.”

Conor said the valuable service provided by BBS is voluntary and dependent on donations from members of the public.

“Our organisation is fully dependant on the goodwill of the people who support us.”

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