A retired shipmaster believes the Nautilus Welfare Fund’s housing and care services may have saved his life after he found himself homeless and severely unwell with malaria. Helen Kelly reports
Seventy-two-year-old Captain John Dalby had been living in Sierra Leone since 2016, providing security consultation to a maritime PLC and helping the country’s government with its maritime infrastructure strategy. He met a local woman, and when that relationship took off, he decided to give up his life in the UK and plough all his time, energy and savings into his new life abroad.
In January 2019, knowing his annual medical check-up from the UK was overdue, he booked a ticket back to the UK. By the time he arrived at London’s Gatwick Airport he was feeling very unwell and, without any warning signs, collapsed in the terminal hall.
The shipmaster was rushed to East Sussex Hospital where he was tested for several tropical diseases including Ebola, dengue fever and TB. Eventually he was diagnosed with malaria, which was attacking his kidneys, liver, and gall bladder.
Capt Dalby describes his symptoms as 'horribly painful'. For much of the time he was unconscious. When he was conscious he had violent shaking, fluctuations in core body temperature and sweats.
Following several weeks in hospital, where his health started to improve, he was discharged by the East Sussex Hospital Trust – with nowhere to go and very little money. Still unwell, he found that he was homeless in the UK.
It was then that Capt Dalby made a life-changing phone call. He rang his friend Ian Millan, who runs the Veterans Outreach Support in Portsmouth. 'I asked if there was anyone in his organisation who lived around the Wirral area, close to where my son lives, who could put me up for a couple of weeks while I got back on my feet,' Capt Dalby recounts.
The hospital wanted to put him on a train up to London and onwards to Liverpool. However, Mr Millan put him in contact with Nautilus Welfare Fund caseworker Sandra Silverwood, and having seen how poorly he was, arranged for a taxi to transport Capt Dalby the 300 miles north to Mariners' Park in Wallasey and stay in the Mariners’ Park Care Home.
That decision probably saved his life. While he was in the care home, the malaria struck again, and he was rushed back into hospital at Liverpool's Arrowe Park. It turned out that he hadn't been fully cured of the disease, and with traces of the infection still in his bloodstream, Capt Dalby was having recurring attacks.
But at least he was alive. 'If I had kept my UK flat and had come back to live in it by myself, God knows what would have happened to me,' he says.
Four months on, Capt Dalby is now recuperating in the independent housing at Mariners' Park. He says the days of owning property are long gone, but he is managing to live 'reasonably well' renting a bungalow with income from his state pension and two small private pensions, one with the MNOPF scheme (which is now closed to new entrants).
Capt Dalby hopes to eventually return to Sierra Leone, but for now is content in his new home overlooking the River Mersey.
He says the wheel has now turned full circle. 'I was living in Wallasey from the age of 10. And I remember standing near Mariners’ Park with my mum and saying to her: “When I return from sea I want to live around here.” And 60 years later here I am. It’s a good omen.’
I was living in Wallasey from the age of 10. And I remember standing near Mariners’ Park with my mum and saying to her: “When I return from sea I want to live around here.” And 60 years later here I am. It’s a good omen