West Cork’s emergency response jeep is ‘the difference between life and death’

They organised pub quizzes, race nights, raffles and walks to buy and equip it. And after a marathon community effort, they’ve been able to present a state-of-the-art emergency response jeep to a trauma doctor who could one day save their life.

West Cork’s emergency response jeep is ‘the difference between life and death’

Almost 1,000 people from across West Cork turned out in Ballinascarthy on Saturday for the official handover of the vehicle to Dr Jason van der Velde, the West Cork Rapid Response (WCRR) unit’s doctor who works in some of the remotest parts of the country.

“It will be the difference between life and and death for someone,” he said.

“As a critical care support to the National Ambulance Service (NAS), we bring full intensive care resuscitation capabilities to an accident site.

“This jeep will allow us to bring all the equipment you would find in the emergency department at Cork University Hospital (CUH) to the side of the road.

“We are adding ultrasound to this vehicle, which will allow us to identify internal bleeding or a collapsed lung, it has full blood gas analysis equipment, intensive care unit ventilators and invasive monitors.

“It means we can provide full care, which would normally start in an emergency department, at the side of the road.”

The Dutch native, who lives in West Cork with his wife, Kirsten, and four children, works in CUH’s emergency department.

A pre-hospital emergency medicine and critical care retrieval physician, he also manages the HSE’s National 24-hour emergency telemedical support unit, Medico Cork, which provides emergency advice and support to the crew of vessels at sea, and to islanders.

But he has also been a volunteer with WCRR since it was founded in 2009, saving lives in his spare time.

The voluntary group works in partnership with the HSE’s NAS in the region, parts of which are more than 190km from Cork City.

During 95 after-hours call-outs with WCRR in the first half of last year, Dr van der Velde restarted seven hearts, delivered three babies, and saved on average two lives every month in the region.

But the unit’s battered 2008 emergency jeep was on its last legs.

Ballinascarthy Community Association mounted the massive ‘Jeep for Jason’ campaign, to buy and kit-out a new vehicle — a robust 3.2ltr 4x4 Ford Ranger to withstand the rigours of the region’s roads.

Association spokesperson, Kate Crowley, said the outpouring of goodwill was astounding, with more than 80 public fundraising events, prompting a flood of private and corporate donations.

“What spurred us on was the fact that out of our five-member committee, three of us are survivors of cancer who have been given a second bite of the cherry, and that is what we would want for everyone — a second chance,” she said.

“That is what Dr Jason does. He gives people a second chance — there cannot be a greater gift to give someone.”

Tradesmen and automotive experts volunteered to work on the three-month fit-out of the jeep, which is nearing completion.

Its rear section has been fitted with a Ntao-rated aluminium canopy to seal the area where sensitive and hi-tech medical equipment is housed.

A full industrial dehumidifier will keep the equipment dry.

The jeep has been fitted with an array of batteries to power the medical gear, and dozens of extendable and flip-out trays, which can be deployed during an emergency under extendable hoods, to keep them dry.

Ms Crowley said Dr Jason is seen as a hero in the region.

But he played down that tag, and described the community fundraising effort as “meitheal in action”.

“I have a qualification, I have a trade, and my neighbour might have another trade,” he said.

“With this jeep, my neighbour might be able to help by putting it together, by working on the electrics.

“And one day, God forbid, if they are ill or traumatically injured, I will help them.

“I just do what I do. It’s not just one guy in a fast jeep.

“You can not do what we do without the community —there is no way that one person can do that.

“I’m just the person who is holding the scalpel. Behind me is a range of support.

“The real heroes are my wife and kids who are abandoned when the beeper goes off. They are the unsung heroes.”

‘I owe my life to Dr Jason’

Ann Kelly says she owes her life to Dr Jason van der Velde and the West Cork Rapid Response (WCRR) unit.

“If it hadn’t been for him that day, I just wouldn’t be here today. It’s as simple as that,” she said.

From Baltimore in West Cork, Ann, 42, was driving home from the city in her Toyota Corolla van one day in May 2010 when she was involved in a head-on collision with a 4x4 jeep just outside Bandon.

The impact forced her car’s engine block and steering wheel into her chest, causing severe injuries and pinning her to her seat.

It took Clonakilty fire service 90-minutes to cut Ann free from the wreckage.

Dr Jason was right by her side the entire time, treating her injuries and comforting her.

“I had 11 broken ribs, a disarticulated left leg and internal bleeding,” Ann said.

“I don’t remember much about those minutes because of the medication Jason gave me.

“But people have told me that I would have died if it wasn’t for him.”

Dr Jason accompanied her in an ambulance to Cork University Hospital, where she spent two and a half months recovering from her injuries.

“I had never heard of the WCRR unit then,” she said.

Now she and her husband, Tom, are active fundraisers for the group.

“People say they hope they’ll never need it but it’s great to know it’s there,” she said.


More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.