Biker Eugene Laverty's tribute to tragic 'flying doctor' Dr John Hinds with logo on race leathers
Bike ace Eugene Laverty will wear special racing leathers tomorrow in memory of his late friend Dr John Hinds who championed the launch of an air ambulance in Northern Ireland.
Patches have been specially stitched onto his sleeves with the words 'Air Ambulance Northern Ireland' as the Monaco-based MotoGP star prepares to race in the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez.
Eugene, who returns to the same racing circuit where he survived a 160mph smash a week before his wedding last year, said he will feel "proud" in helping to continue to raise awareness about the air ambulance.
His wife Pippa explained that it is his way of saying "thank you" to John who had not only treated Eugene but had saved the lives of his racing friends.
Dr Hinds, known as 'the flying doctor', had passionately lobbied Stormont to create a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS). The 35-year-old died in a motorcycle crash while providing volunteer medical cover at the Skerries 100 race outside Dublin last July.
The campaign then received a huge swell of public support to establish the service. In the last Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced £4.5m to help provide an air ambulance for Northern Ireland - the only UK region not currently covered by such a service.
Stormont Health Minister Simon Hamilton revealed further details about the envisaged service on what would have been Dr Hinds' 36th birthday.
Toomebridge racer Laverty, who is part of the Aspar Ducati team, had previously worn a special helmet in tribute to the doctor at the German Grand Prix.
But the couple wanted to continue raising awareness and funds for the project.
Wife Pippa said: "We know the progress that has been made with the Health Minister making the announcement but we just thought why don't we put the badges on the leathers to generate a bit more help for the air ambulance. It will save so many lives when it is up and running."
Laverty's sponsors Shoei and Alpinestars quickly managed to make the idea become a reality and arranged to have the air ambulance logo added to the race suits in preparation for the race in Jerez this weekend.
The Spanish crash last year left Eugene (29) suffering from a fractured radius in his left arm and a dislocated shoulder.
Pippa added: "Many times John saved lives of Eugene's friends and a lot of people. It is his way of saying thank you.
"John had treated Eugene a couple of times. Being involved in bike racing can be hazardous and he was a very good doctor. Eugene would ask John for advice and if he needed scanned, John was able to put him in touch with people. He was so supportive and helpful with Eugene's recovery."
Eugene said: "We're moving ever closer to having an air ambulance in Northern Ireland and the project has really gathered momentum this year.
"It's important to keep it fresh in everyone's mind in order to achieve Doctor John's goal of bringing an air ambulance to Northern Ireland. So many people are working hard back home to make this vision a reality and I'm proud to have the opportunity to help out."
Eugene will be attending the North West 200 this year as a spectator, where they are hoping to have the air ambulance up and running in time for the famous north coast road race.
Event director Mervyn White says that hopefully the race will be an opportunity to raise much-needed funds for the charity.
"Over the past two years, we've had a requirement to bring in an air ambulance from various places to the event, after having a couple of serious incidents," he said.
"This year, we're really hoping that we'll have the ambulance on hand, so that if we do have a serious incident we can fly people straight to the hospitals in Belfast - something that we've been pushing for a number of years, because it's crucial that we can get people there as quickly as possible.
"There are some fine details to be sorted yet with landing positions, but we're hopeful that during the race itself, it will be positioned around the start area so that we can raise some funds for them."
Ian Crowe, chairman of the Air Ambulance NI (AANI), said he was delighted by the ongoing support from Eugene.
"Eugene is a highly successful and respected professional in motorcycle sport, both nationally and internationally, and we are very proud that he has chosen to be an advocate for the charity," he said.
- If you would like to donate to the cause, visit: www.airambulanceni.org