Pensioner who came close to death says local charities like the one who saved him need more aid
A pensioner whose life was saved by a telephone befriending service has called for more support for charities that help those who live alone.
John Ibbotson (66), who lives alone and suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), angina and poor circulation, collapsed in his home last November.
His life was saved when a local charity, Good Morning Ballymena, which phones him on a daily basis, alerted his next of kin that it had received no response to its call.
"I get a call from Good Morning Ballymena every morning, and it is very reassuring," John told the Belfast Telegraph.
"On November 22, 2017, Good Morning Ballymena rang me and they had no answer, so they rang my next of kin, my ex-wife.
"She came round, but I had put the deadbolt on the door so no-one could get in.
"She phoned the police and ambulance service, and they broke the door down."
The emergency services found John lying in his bedroom, close to death.
"They told me later that I was lying half across the bed and I wasn't breathing," he explained.
"When they took me out, everybody came round the ambulance, they thought I was dead.
"I had a couple of fits in the ambulance, I was fitting the whole way to hospital, and when I got there I was put in an induced coma on life support. After I came round they couldn't keep me in Antrim Area Hospital, so they sent me up to Altnagelvin, where I was really well looked after.
"I then went into Rosedale Residential Care Home in Antrim, and I have since been able to return home."
Now on the road to recovery, John says he wouldn't be alive without the Good Morning Ballymena service, which provides telephone support to almost 100 elderly people per day.
"Good Morning Ballymena saved my life," he continued.
"If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be here today.
"My son Chris, a photographer, gave them a picture of Slemish Mountain as a mark of his thanks for saving my life.
"I really do think that organisations like that, which help people who are isolated, should have more backing and more donations. They are a lifeline."
Project co-ordinator of Good Morning Ballymena Debbie Chestnutt said it was "very sad indeed" that a new report has found that 62.9% of people in Northern Ireland suffer from loneliness, and 25.7% don't know their neighbours' names.
"We would ring up an average of 92 people per day who are over 60, lonely and want to talk, and we have about 300 people on our register," she said.
"Our 27 volunteers ring people up once a day from Monday to Friday. I think there has been a breakdown of old-fashioned community values.
"Loneliness is like a cancer eating away at our society.
"Some people do have family, but kids don't have time to go and see their mum or dad.
"Some days, elderly people don't speak to anyone apart from Good Morning Ballymena."
For service users like John, Debbie said that the telephone scheme provides them with peace of mind.
"It allows them to live independently and to know that someone will check on them if the call isn't answered," she said.
"We're really glad that we could come to John's aid."
Debbie believes that a range of factors are feeding into the current loneliness crisis.
"There's the pressure of jobs, professional people working 9am to 5pm, people are always using phones or computers and they don't have time for an older person," she continued.
"I think there's also an element of political correctness, people are afraid to contact an elderly person in case they make a mistake, and older people don't want to open their doors as they are afraid.
"It's very sad indeed, and mental health is a big concern," she said.
"Thirty or forty years ago everyone knew everybody else on their street, and they all left their doors open."