LVAD Cycling with the Electric Cranks Cycling Club
The Electric Cranks are a group of heart and lung transplant patients at Wythenshawe Hospital, who use electric bikes to aid their recovery and wellbeing. The majority of riders are themselves 'e-humans' with Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs) - mechanical heart pumps powered by large external batteries - fitted and connected via an abdominal driveline.
Wythenshawe Hospital heart and lung transplant centre is the specialist hub for lifesaving heart and lung transplant operations for the whole of the North West of England. Having an organ transplant or LVAD implant are major events and the impacts on the lives of patients can be astronomical. With this in mind, the heart and lung transplant centre includes access to a support group and gym and physio programmes, which is where the Electric Cranks met.
“It's a support group. It's incredibly encouraging. We have a damn good laugh and it just restores our joie de vivre."
How has the cycling group evolved?
For the first year or so post LVAD operation, I was trying to find ways of getting back into cycling, I tried on my old bike which hasn't got any assist and was struggling to do more than a mile. Then I met another patient from Wythenshawe who I'd been told was also keen on cycling so we got together. I then got myself an electric bike.
He and I then spent the next few months encouraging other patients with a post op heart, that included people who had never really been cyclists which was quite a step for them. So it's grown from there; the distances we ride, the terrain we ride over, we go to parts of the country that most of us have never been to.
Bob Gower, Electric Cranks Cycling Club
How are these ‘e-humans’ kept alive?
A Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) is a mechanical pump that is implanted in patients with heart failure. It helps the bottom left chamber of the heart (left ventricle) pump blood out of the ventricle to the aorta and the rest of the body.
Peter O'Donnell, Electric Cranks Cycling Club
The LVAD device is sitting and pumping away four and a half litres of blood a minute. It's quite impressive, actually, just what this equipment can do. My left ventricle in my heart has failed completely and that's why the device was fitted, so that it could do all the work that the left ventricle normally does.
An unexpected heart attack
I wouldn't consider myself a heart attack victim - no family history. So the whole thing came to me as a complete bolt out of the blue. I was climbing with my son in North Wales. I had this massive pain in my chest where I thought I'd been shot or stabbed, I certainly couldn't move.
I felt quite dizzy and queasy. My son and I contacted mountain rescue helicopters and mountain rescue teams, and it took them 9 hours in total to get me into a hospital; they carried me for 5 hours, it was half an hour in the helicopter, and an hour by ambulance.
Ian Wilton, Electric Cranks Cycling Club
It was all because I was relatively fit and healthy that I actually survived the heart attack - the paramedic that dealt with me on the mountain said that she thought I would be in a body bag within an hour. I'm incredibly grateful for the mountain rescue team and the medical staff that put me back together so that I can do what I'm doing today.
Coast to Coast - 100 miles along Hadrian's Wall
In June, The Electric Cranks cycled 100 miles along Hadrian's Wall, following the classic 'Coast to Coast' Cycle Route 72 (over 3 days) from Bowness-on-Solway to South Shields in order to further pioneer the effectiveness of the LVAD and raise awareness of those living with an LVAD and severe heart failure. They also generated funds for New Start Charity (Wythenshawe Hospital Transplant Fund).
Hadrian's Wall is a historic defensive wall in northern England that was built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. It stretches across the width of Britain, from the North Sea in the east to the Irish Sea in the west. The wall was named after the Roman emperor Hadrian, who ordered its construction as a way to defend the Roman Empire from attacks by barbarian tribes. Today, Hadrian's Wall is a popular tourist attraction and a testament to Roman engineering.
The ambitious athletes stayed at one of our most picturesque glamping sites, Herding Hill Farm, which is only a 10 minute walk from Hadrian's Wall. The Electric Cranks loved the idea of camping, but wanted to be reassured that they would have a comfortable night's sleep and enough power to charge both their LVADs and their bikes, so glamping in cosy Wigwam Cabins was the perfect solution.
Dedicated Medical Team
The team are dependent on a specialist medical team from Wythenshawe Hospital Transplant Centre to provide 24 hour monitoring, support and equipment maintenance:
Dr Steve Shaw, Consultant Cardiologist at Wythenshawe Hospital
These are patients whose hearts had completely failed, and they were at the point of imminent death. It's just wonderful to see how much of a restoration of life this LVAD treatment was able to give.
If you look at the journeys they've been on, each of them has been critically unwell and they've stared their own mortality in the face. They've come to a place now where they're riding Coast to Coast - I think cycling has just opened their eyes to the world in front of them and they can enjoy life again.
How do you maintain a positive outlook?
Certainly the heart failure diagnosis was an absolutely life changing experience for me, my wife and our son. It makes you rethink what's really important in life. It's taken away my fear. What's the worst that can happen? I can only die, and we all die.
This is the life that I've got and I'm comfortable with that. I'm determined to live that life for as long and as well as I possibly can. Riding bikes through the countryside in a beautiful part of England, with a bunch of fellow fantastic guys, is about as good as it can get.
Bob Gower, Electric Cranks Cycling Club
“It's been a fantastic experience. This is what it's all about - getting off your backside to go and enjoy yourself. Go Cranks!”
What does the outdoors mean to you?
“It’s freedom. It’s independence. It’s what I call, Vitamin Nature.”
Nature has a profound impact on our wellbeing. Spending time in natural environments can reduce stress, improve mood, and increase feelings of happiness and vitality. The sights and sounds of nature have a calming effect on the mind, and the physical activity of being outdoors can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
In addition, the natural world provides a sense of connection and belonging, which can be especially important in today's fast-paced and often isolating society. Whether it's a walk through the park, a hike in the woods, or simply a few minutes spent observing the natural world from a window, taking time to connect with nature is an important aspect of maintaining mental and emotional wellbeing.
Get your dose of Vitamin Nature in the UK's most remote and beautiful locations: