Mum’s milk – vital in the days after birth – was transported to premature babies in hospital at short notice by East Devon volunteers after a charity based in Honiton rallied to help.
Praise has been heaped on the Devon Freewheelers, who stepped in when volunteers were told a family from Somerset was struggling to make daily 30-mile round trips to feed their babies in the neonatal unit at Taunton.
Within an hour of learning of the family’s plight, six volunteers agreed a five-day rota to collect mum’s breast milk from the home address and deliver it to Musgrove Park Hospital.
Hospital staff said the Devon Freewheelers charity, based in Honiton, had provided a ‘vital service’, transporting breast milk to vulnerable and premature babies in the first few weeks of their lives.
Susan Fulker, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust’s neonatal unit manager, said: “We would like to express our sincere thanks to the Devon Freewheelers, who provide an essential service to the neonatal unit at Musgrove Park Hospital.
“One way in which they have been able to support us in recent months is by transporting breast milk not only between hospitals in the region, but also between babies’ homes and hospital.
“This vital service has enabled vulnerable and premature babies to receive their mother’s milk, which is such an important part of their care, helping to ensure the best nutrition in the first few weeks of their lives.
“The Devon Freewheelers are so helpful and reliable, always turning up with a cheerful smile and a friendly word.”
The volunteers – from Bradninch, Tiverton, Taunton, Aylesbeare, Exeter and Stoke Cannon – made daily deliveries after hearing the babies’ dad faced three-hour trips to hospital, delivering his wife’s breast milk after work.
The blood bikers and car drivers from Exeter and East Devon rallied to help, on top of their day-to-day courier collection and drop-off services.
Dave Cook, East Devon area coordinator, a volunteer with the charity for nine years, said: “I put out an email to the volunteers to see what reaction I would get and within the hour I had twelve replies saying ‘I can help’, and their availability.
“That’s the sort of people they; the calibre of person who volunteers for the Devon Freewheelers believes in the charity and believes in what we are doing for the community. So that level of support didn’t surprise me at all.”
Married dad-of-two, Dave aged 64, from Honiton, who retired from Devon and Cornwall Police in 2016, said: “I put a rota together and the charity sorted out vehicles, and what was going to be available on top of our normal blood bike work.
“We went to where the family live, collected the mum’s breast milk and transported it more than 30 miles to Musgrove Park Hospital neonatal unit for the babies. They were at the hospital and mum was at home.
“Her husband was coming home after working a full day and taking the milk to Musgrove then going back. It was taking around three hours on top of his working day.”
The nature of the free courier service means the Devon blood bikers and drivers liaise with medical staff and rarely see who they help.
Dave, who served for 24 years with the British Army in the Corps of the Royal Engineers, and as a specialist diver, said volunteers were left with a ‘warm gooey feeling’ when thanked by someone they have helped as a Devon Freewheeler.
“Three years ago, at Armed Forces Day in Plymouth a woman came over,” said Dave. “She had this little lad in her arms. She said ‘could I just say a massive thank you.”
“He’d had leukemia and had needed 16 blood transfusions; she said the Devon Freewheelers were involved.
“This lad was beaming. I said ‘can you excuse me a minute’. I went around the back of the gazebo and had to wipe my eyes. It was lovely to hear that story. That’s why we do it. Because we know whatever we are carrying on the bike is changing the quality of somebody’s life.”