Homeless Leeds lifesaver had extraordinary secret life on the streets

Tess Dealing, Ryan and Hannah Wakefield. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Tess Dealing, Ryan and Hannah Wakefield. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

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The crowd of homeless people stood on a hospital ward, desperate to pay their respects to their dying friend, revealed Mark Wakefield’s tragic double life.

The 49-year-old salesman, from Pudsey, Leeds, had suffered decades of ill health which stemmed from two near-fatal brain tumours that stretched back more than 20 years – the second tumour came with a diagnosis of crippling epilepsy.

Mark Wakefield's United Kingdom Award for Organ Donation from the Order of St John. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Mark Wakefield's United Kingdom Award for Organ Donation from the Order of St John. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Years of self medication with alcohol led to the break up of his marriage in 2003 and he drifted in and out of contact with his children, Ryan, 19, and Hannah, 22.

Always well presented and a man with many friends, Mr Wakefield hid his problems from those closest to him and in 2013 he suffered an epileptic fit outside Leeds homelessness charity St George’s Crypt.

He banged his head and was rushed to Leeds General Infirmary, where he suffered another major seizure and was deemed brain dead by medics. His family rushed to be by his side and later agreed to donate his organs.

Speaking in support of The YP-backed Be A Hero organ donation campaign, his daughter Hannah said: “It turned out he was still working but staying at St George’s Crypt. It wasn’t until he was on his death bed and all these homeless people came to see him that we saw his involvement with it.

“He had a different life. He was very proud, he would go to work every day with a brand new clean shirt and people didn’t know what was going on in the background. It’s changed my perspective on homeless people, he didn’t want us to see how he was living.”

Mr Wakefield had in fact been homeless on and off for three years, staying at St George’s Crypt regularly and wearing clothes that had been donated. Latterly he was known for begging on a bridge near the crypt with a Quran and Bible.

He moved between flats in the city until his drinking habit meant he would stop paying his rent and he would end up back on the streets. Struggling to stay afloat, he was keen to turn his life around. Days after his death on July 24 2013 he was booked on a rehabilitation course.

At his bedside, his children were asked whether their he wished to become an organ donor – they did not hesitate in saying yes. Despite his past, his kidneys were healthy and were transplanted, saving the lives of a man in his 40s and one in his 50s.

Tess Dealing, Mr Wakefield’s sister, said: “Two people are alive now because of Mark, he would be so proud of that. He would give you the shirt off his back.”

His popularity was marked by the outpouring of grief from his friends at St George’s Crypt – a special bus was even organised to take the homeless to his funeral.

His children have since fundraised for the charity, while Mr Wakefield has received the United Kingdom Award for Organ Donation from the Order of St John.

Martin Patterson, the crypt’s fundraising director, added: “Mark’s donation is frankly deeply moving and shows a degree of care for his fellow individuals when people often try to bracket homeless people as insular and isolated when that isn’t the case.

“They are remarkably community-minded and if somebody’s having a hard time the rest of the community try to help. In donating his kidneys in death, he gave the ultimate gift.”

JOIN THE REGISTER AND BE A HERO

The Yorkshire Post is urging people in Leeds and wider Yorkshire to join the NHS Organ Donor Register.

The Be A Hero campaign, which is backed by The YP and organised by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, was sparked by the news that just 29 Leeds families and 114 Yorkshire-wide donated organs last year while more than 800 people in the county await lifesaving transplants.

A donor can help up to nine people after death, and signing up to the register is simple and easy.

Click here to sign the NHS Organ Donor Register through Be A Hero.

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