'She's our little miracle' - Toddler's life saved thanks to blood bikers
PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:03 16 August 2019
Happy and healthy three-year-old Caitlin Connell would probably not be here today if it wasn't for the tireless dedication of the volunteers from Norfolk Blood Bikes.
Today marks National Blood Bike Awareness Day, which aims to shine a light on the life-saving service.
Born at 23 weeks and weighing just 1lb 2oz, Caitlin's life was hanging in the balance.
This was until Norfolk Blood Bikes brought life-saving blood and platelets to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, where premature Caitlin, from Easton, near Norwich, was being treated.
Julia Pardoe, Caitlin's mother, said: "If it wasn't for Norfolk Blood Bikes, alongside the amazing work of the staff at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, we wouldn't have the family we have now.
"We were really living minute by minute, but Caitlin turned a corner once she received the platelets, which were brought from Cambridge to Norwich by the bikers, who do it all for nothing and are a lovely set of people."
Norfolk Blood Bikes, more commonly known as SERV Norfolk, is part of a wider association made up of over 1500 volunteer bikers across the UK and Ireland, who give up their time to provide life-saving supplies at no cost to the NHS.
In July alone, SERV Norfolk moved 225 boxes of blood and supported the East Anglian Air Ambulance on over thirty occasions.
SERV Norfolk was established in 2011 and is run entirely by a team of dedicated volunteers. They do not only courier blood, but also transport donated breast milk to premature babies, lab samples and medical items for the NHS.
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There are SERV Norfolk volunteers working every single night, as well as during the day on weekends and Bank Holidays.
The evening shift starts at 7pm and bikers can be called out during any point until 7am the following day.
As the bikes need to be transported between riders, volunteers have to sign up to a minimum of two consecutive shifts.
Norfolk blood biker Keith Grisedale highlighted the dedication required: "On days when it is raining and the water is running down the back of your neck, you know there is always a person in a worse position than you in hospital."
The bikers also deliver blood to the East Anglian Air Ambulance every night, removing any unused blood away after two days, and taking it to a hospital, so that it is not wasted.
Mr Grisedale added: "Our mantra is 'we'll go no matter what', and that basically sums up a blood biker's mentality. We don't know who the patients are, but we know that they could be in a far worse condition without what we have to deliver, and it's that mindset, that drives us to volunteer. We do it to make a difference to people's lives."
SERV Norfolk has been instrumental in establishing a regional milk bank hub at Hellesdon Hospital, in partnership with the Human Milk Foundation.
They transport both untreated donor breast milk as well as treated milk, ready for use in hospitals for the benefit of premature babies or mothers who are unable to breastfeed. The creation of the Hellesdon hub has dramatically reduced travel times and costs.
Mrs Pardoe said: "They work as a real team. It is not just about the person on the bike, there is so much going on behind the scenes. Caitlin really is our miracle baby and I think she knows it!
"She's on the go all day, loves being outside and sleeps 12 hours a night. She loves being around people and is always happy and smiling. She doesn't seem to have any long-term problems, despite being so premature, which is amazing."
You can show your support of National Blood Bikers Awareness Day by using the hashtag #bloodbikeday. You can follow them on Twitter: @SERVNorfolk, and visit their website at: https://norfolkbloodbikes.org.uk/