A recovered coronavirus patient in Saaremaa gets back on his bike to inspire hope – and donations for Kuressaare Hospital

One of the first people to become seriously ill after contracting the novel coronavirus in Estonia has not just recovered but taken part in a charity cycle ride around Saaremaa to help inspire thousands of euros in donations for the hospital that saved his life.

Cycling coach Riho Räim from Saaremaa was in intensive care with COVID-19, but medical workers at Kuressaare Hospital managed to stabilise his condition so that he could be airlifted off the island to Tallinn for specialist treatment.

Helping Saaremaa speed up its recovery

After beating the illness, Räim made a hero’s return to Saaremaa where he joined his son, Mihkel Räim, and friend, Steven Kalf, for a fundraising ride around the island. They were cheered on by local residents, some of whom came out to wave the Estonian flags, while many more followed the trip live on social media from across Estonia. In addition to helping inspire those battling the coronavirus, around €11,000 was donated by bank transfers while a larger amount not yet known was donated by phone pledges.

“My home island, Saaremaa, has suffered a lot during the last two months,” Mihkel Räim, who is also a top Estonian cyclist, explained. “There has been a great burden and a lot of stress and sadness that has devastated everyone, including myself, my family, our hospital and businesses on the island. It takes time to overcome it, but I am sure all kinds of activities like this will help Saaremaa speed up its recovery and enable us to get back to our daily lives.”

Mihkel Räim and Steven Kalf started their fundraising ride in front of the town hall in Kuressaare early in the morning and were joined by Riho Räim for part of the 330-kilometre (205-mile) journey around the island before the pair completed their ride near Kuressaare Hospital later that night.

Inspiring future tourism

Saaremaa, Estonia’s largest island, has been particularly severely affected by the coronavirus crisis following an early outbreak on the island. The BBC even labelled it a “corona island” in a report broadcast around the world. But the locals are determined to change that story. The cyclists made a video along the way, which they will release to help inspire future tourism to return to the island.

The Saaremaa borough chairperson, Madis Kallas, who is also the chairman of the Saaremaa Crisis Committee, expressed his gratitude to the cyclists. “Both in cycling and in a crisis situation, only teamwork will lead to victory and the input by each team member is very important,” he said.

Medical workers also expressed their thanks. Märt Kõlli, a member of the executive board of Kuressaare Hospital, said the staff of Kuressaare Hospital had depended on the support of the local community during this crisis. “This event organised by Mihkel Räim is a nice way to continue the ‘let’s do this together’ behaviour.”

Anyone inspired to donate to Kuressaare Hospital can still do so through online bank transfer to Kuressaare Haigla SA with the payment description, “Aitan Saaremaad”. The account number is EE322200001120090627 (Swedbank, BIC/SWIFT code: HABAEE2X) or EE581010220017888014 (SEB, BIC/SWIFT code: EEUHEE2X).

For the latest developments in Estonia, follow our special blog on coronavirus.

Cover: Riho Räim, a recovered coronavirus patient in Saaremaa, got back on his bike to inspire island’s recovery. Images courtesy of Mihkel Räim.

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