Belfast Telegraph

Bikers' 'guardian angel' John Hinds makes final journey

Doctor's partner urges public to realise dream of an air ambulance service

By Ivan Little

The heartbroken partner of motorbike racing's 'flying doctor' John Hinds, who died in a tragic accident at the weekend, has called on people in Northern Ireland to back his campaign for the introduction of an air ambulance here.

Speaking for the first time about the Portaferry man whose funeral yesterday was attended by more than 1,000 mourners, Dr Janet Acheson described him as her "quiet man who will own my heart for ever".

And as his remains were carried from St Patrick's Church in Portaferry, Janet placed a red rose on his coffin as the song he played to her every night before they went to sleep rang out over the chapel's PA system.

Janet fought back the tears and clung to Dr Hinds' parents Dermot and Josephine for support as she listened to the lines that said "rest in peaceful sleep" and "just give love to all".

Dr Hinds, who saved the lives of many road racing riders and spectators, died on Saturday morning after sustaining extensive injuries while providing medical cover at a practice session for the Skerries 100 motorcycle races in the Republic the day before.

Dr Hinds - who was a consultant anaesthetist at Craigavon Area Hospital and a lecturer in trauma science - was travelling on his own motorbike behind the riders when he crashed into a wall. Yesterday dozens of bikers, paramedics, fire officers and motorcycling marshals provided a guard of honour as his huge funeral cortege wound its way the three miles from the Hinds' family home to the church where John was baptised 35 years ago.

Two PSNI motorcyclists were at the head of the cortege, which also included dozens of motorbike enthusiasts from all over Ireland.

Fr Michael Hinds conducted the funeral service for his cousin and read out a message from Janet, who said John had radiated grace from the heart and peace from the soul.

She added: "John believed it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and that is how his achievements leave us in his wake. There has been much made of John's age, but as he used to say to me, with his infectious sense of humour: 'Age doesn't matter unless you are a cheese'."

Earlier, in a statement, Janet said: "I urge you all today on John's behalf to help us ensure that his dream of a first-class, world-leading trauma network - with a doctor-led helicopter emergency medical service at its core - becomes a reality so that it can start saving lives on our doorstep."

Fr Hinds said the role reversal as doctors fought to save John's life in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin was almost too perverse to comprehend, adding: "The administration of medical care was his role, his expertise and even to a large degree his raison d'etre in life."

Fr Hinds, who called his cousin the 'bikers' guardian angel', said he had been a great but unassuming and unaffected man who with his brilliant mind and skilled medical hands had "perpetuated life for so many other people without seeking reward or praise in return".

He finished his homily by saying: "Ride on in peace Delta 7, ride on" - a reference to Dr Hinds' call sign, which had been given to him after he volunteered to work with the Ambulance Service to respond to road and industrial accidents. An emotional eulogy was delivered at the Requiem Mass by Dr Fred McSorley, another road racing medic and a close friend of Dr Hinds.

Dr McSorley said John had been an extraordinary man, an inspirational teacher and doctor, who only two weeks ago had spoken passionately at a prestigious trauma conference in Chicago.

He said that he first met Dr Hinds when he was a young medical student who was keen to join his travelling doctors team at road races, but was too young.

"He just wouldn't go away," said Dr McSorley.

"Little did we know what a star he was to become and rapidly the master was being taught by the pupil." He said Dr Hinds usually got to the scene of accidents first.

He added: "So instead of being the travelling doctor, I was becoming the travelling second opinion."

Dr McSorley spoke of the shock among the medical team who arrived on the scene of Dr Hinds' crash at Skerries.

"They thought they were going out to a fallen competitor. They had no idea they were going out to Dr John, their mentor, their teacher," he said.

"Through extraordinarily different circumstances, they worked heroics, but they did exactly as John had been teaching them during the winter (training) sessions. They just stuck to his teachings."

Dr McSorley said after Dr Hinds passed away, Janet had urged him to go to the Skerries races to help the emergency medical teams, as it was what he would have wanted him to do.

Turning to Dr Hinds' legacy, Dr McSorley said his friend had realised it would take a long time to improve the trauma care system in Northern Ireland.

"He recognised that a helicopter had to be part of an integrated, reformed trauma service, so it was integral to the service and not just an add-on.

"That will take several years of hard work and John was the very person who would have driven that on.

"I don't know who will take that on now - hopefully someone will."

Dr McSorley made a plea for people who wanted to keep Dr Hinds' memory alive in the shorter term to become blood donors.

He revealed that blood from 54 donors had been used on Dr Hinds at Beaumont Hospital.

He added: "That kept him alive long enough so that the last of his family, his brother Colin, could fly over from London to be with him while he was still alive."

Dr McSorley said he hoped that in time his colleague's dream of improving the trauma service here would come true, with a helicopter at the heart of it.

He revealed that Dr Hinds' Delta 7 pager had been deactivated by the Ambulance Service on Tuesday.

"I would hope with the help and dedication of people here that in the years to come the call sign will be heard again (on a helicopter) - as clear to land on a heliport at the top of the Royal Victoria Hospital."

Dr Hinds was buried in a graveyard adjoining St Patrick's Church at the foot of Portaferry's Windmill Hill, with the sun shimmering on the Mourne Mountains in the distance.

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