Who are the Electric Cranks?
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.
“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.
Bob Gower, Crank
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, 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.
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, Crank
The 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, I think it was half an hour in the helicopter, and an hour by ambulance.
Ian Wilton, Crank
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, not quite in the way that I would like, but they've put me back in a fashion so that I can do what I'm doing today.
Coast to Coast - 100 miles across the UK
The Cranks cycled 100 miles along the classic 'Coast to Coast' 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 severe heart failure and an LVAD. They also generated funds for New Start (Wythenshawe Hospital Transplant Fund).
“It's been a fantastic experience. In one piece. Still alive. Not exactly beating, but certainly pumping. And that's what it's all about, getting off your backside to go and enjoy yourself. Go Cranks.”
The group are dependent on a specialist medical team from Wythenshawe Hospital Transplant Centre to provide 24 hour monitoring, care and equipment maintenance:
Steve Shaw, Cardiologist
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 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.
What does the outdoors mean to you?
“It’s freedom, it’s independence, it’s what I call Vitamin Nature.”
Get your dose of Vitamin Nature in the UK's most remote and beautiful locations:
How do you maintain a positive outlook?
Certainly the 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 sometime.
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, and sitting here in the middle of the countryside in a beautiful part of England, riding bikes with a bunch of fellow fantastic guys, is about as good as it can get. Bob Gower, Crank