NW200 woman saved by Dr John Hinds calls for an air ambulance in his memory
The North West 200 spectator whose life was saved by the late Dr John Hinds has said she is devastated by his sudden death, and distraught that she'll never get the opportunity to thank him.
Violet McAfee (44) suffered serious head and leg injuries when she was caught up in a three-bike crash during the opening race in May.
Dr Hinds, who died at the weekend following a motorbike accident in Co Dublin, treated her at the scene before helping two other injured riders.
Ms McAfee, a mother-of-one from Ballybogey, said she is one of many people who owes her life to the doctor, whose death has left both the local motorcycling and medical fraternities in mourning.
"Dr Hinds saved my life; I can say that without any doubt," said Ms McAfee, who had been standing with family members in a friend's front garden at Station Road in Portstewart when her accident happened.
"People who were there when I was injured told me what a magnificent job he did," she added.
"He was there extremely quickly. He looked after me and did what he needed to do and then he went on to the riders.
"I just can't believe that he was killed and I'm very sad that I never got a chance personally to say a huge thank you to him for saving my life."
The hugely popular Dr Hinds (35) was fatally injured while providing medical cover at a Skerries 100 practice session last Friday.
He was travelling behind the riders as they made their way around the course during the opening lap of the practice session when his bike crashed into a wall. An investigation into what happened is under way.
He was an anaesthetist at Craigavon Area Hospital in Co Armagh and he regularly worked at the North West 200 motorbike races in Co Antrim.
Paying tribute to the Tangradee man, Ms McAfee, who was taken to hospital by helicopter in a critical condition after her accident, said he was "an absolute gentleman" who will be "sadly missed".
"He was passionate about his job and he did it with such professionalism," the civil servant said.
"I just can't believe that he was killed. It's an absolute shame.
"He was so young. I can't image how his partner or how his family feel. My heart goes out to them.
"He died doing what he loved to do and what he was passionate about. He put the riders before himself. He was a great ambassador for the sport. I just wish I had the chance to meet him and tell him how grateful I am for what he did for me that day" Dr Hinds had led a campaign for an air ambulance service to be introduced in Northern Ireland and had met Health Minister Simon Hamilton to discuss it.
And Ms McAfee said she hoped the Government will now push ahead with his ambition to have such a service.
"The one thing I would like is an air ambulance to be introduced in Northern Ireland as a tribute to him because it is badly needed here," she said.
Dr Hinds and his colleague Dr Fred McSorley were dubbed the "flying doctors" of Irish road racing. Dr McSorley said his death was "profoundly difficult for everyone".
His friend Darren Gilpin (39), a former road racer from Ballyclare, said Dr Hinds was the best in the world at his job.
"Freak accidents happen but you would never have expected that to happen to him," he said.
"I'm lost for words. It is a complete disaster. The support which Dr John provided was invaluable.
"I watched him save a rider who was basically dead at the side of the road after an accident in 2006.
"He also attended John Anderton who was nearly killed in a crash in 2010. Dr John told me that if he'd got there 60 seconds later it wasn't happening... he saved his life. He saved so many people's lives."
He added: "John was passionate about an air ambulance service and I hope Northern Ireland gets one in memory of him."
Dr Hinds had volunteered as one of the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland's (MCUI) team of travelling medics since 2001, having studied medicine at Queen's.
Paramedic Caroline Bowles (38), who worked with him for eight years on the medical team, said his death was a tragic loss.
"He was so humble. He brought so much to the team and we learnt so much from him," she said.
"Everyone is heartbroken beyond belief. This wasn't meant to happen."
The former race doctor leaves behind his partner Janet Acheson, who works as an obstetrician at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.
TUV MLA Jim Allister has renewed calls for the air ambulance service to be introduced in memory of Dr Hinds after a petition gathered over 25,000 signatures in the aftermath of his tragic death.
You can sign the petition here.