Near tragedy leads to launch of life saving service

Honiton man behind blood bike charity Devon Freewheelers.

A HONITON man is providing a vital out-of-hours service to the NHS - spurred on by a near tragedy in his family.

Daniel Lavery, 40, of Biddington Way, is the founder of Devon Freewheelers, a charity that provides a life-saving voluntary emergency service.

The charity delivers blood, organs and breast milk by motorbike to hospitals throughout Devon and Cornwall.

Two bikes and 19 volunteers, including five riders, operate from 7pm to 7am week days and 24 hours at weekends.

But Devon Freewheelers only exists because a blood bike service in Northern Ireland saved Mr Lavery’s Honitonian wife from a premature death.

Shelly Roe-Lavery, 39, was on the brink of death and had been read the last rites by a priest when she turned a corner and started to recover.

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Mr Lavery said: “My wife went into premature labour with our fourth son, Devon. The baby was in distress and an emergency caesarean had to be carried out.

“Unfortunately, the placenta was growing outside of the womb and this had not showed up on a scan.

“During the ceasarean, Shelly bled out and suffered massive blood loss. Surgeons at the hospital in Belfast could not stem the bleed and, while she was in the recovery room, she had a massive haemorrhage and went into shock.”

As as result of the bleeding, Shelly had to undergo an emergency hysterectomy.

“There was real concern she may not make it,” said Mr Lavery. “I was advised to contact her family in Honiton. It was Christmas Eve and I realised I could be left with my children and a baby that was also fighting for life with no wife.

“But, after she had been read the last rites, she started to recover. She had received seven units of blood. The body can only hold eight.”

What surprised Mr Lavery was that the blood which saved his wife’s life had been couriered to the hospital by bike. And the rider was a volunteer.

“I thought it was a fantastic service,” he said. “When we moved back to Honiton, I decided I wanted to give something back. I tried to find the local blood bike service, but there wasn’t one serving Devon or Cornwall. I was shocked that there was one everywhere else in the country, but not here.”

When Mr Lavery contacted the National Association of Blood Bikes, he was told many people ad tried and failed to set up in the region.

“The area is so large,” he said. “There are more community hospitals in Devon and Cornwall than anywhere else. Also, the population triples during the holiday season and blood stocks can disappear overnight.”

Mr Lavery went out and bought a bike at a police auction - a Honda Pan European ST 1100. He explained what he wanted it for and the police let him keep all the equipment on the bike, with the exception of the radio and police crest.

But, when he tried to register Devon Freewheelers as a charity, he hit a stumbling block.

“I didn’t have sufficient funding,” he said. “I objected to that.”

Mr Lavery ran the service on his own for almost a year, investing �15,000 of his own money.

“It was extremely difficult to do any fund-raising,” he said. “But a massive turning point came when Bikers Make A Difference, who run bike nights in Paignton once a week during the summer, gave me �5,000 so I could complete my charity registration.

“Once Devon Freewheelers became a registered charity, all doors were opened.”

In one 36 our period last week, the blood bikes travelled 1,000 miles.

Mr Lavery said: “We never meet the people we help and, in all honesty, they probably don’t know we exist.

“We are blokes with full-time jobs who get up in the middle of the night to answer a call from the NHS.

“We do it because of the personal satisfaction we get knowing that we are making a difference.”

Devon Freewheelers are in Princesshay, Exeter, today.

You can donate, volunteer or support the charity by visiting