The crowd of homeless people stood on a hospital ward, desperate to pay their respects to their dying friend, revealed the tragic double life Mark Wakefield was living.
The 49-year-old salesman, from Pudsey, 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.
Years of self medication with alcohol led to the breakdown of his marriage and he drifted in and out of contact with his two children, Ryan, now 19, and Hannah, 22.
Always well presented and a man with many friends, Mark 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 was informed and rushed to be by his side.
“It turned out he was still working but staying at St George’s Crypt,” his daughter Hannah told the YEP. “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.
“It was like 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.”
Mark 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, most recently staying in Harehills, until his drinking habit meant he would stop paying his rent and would end up back on the streets.
Hannah, who works at the M&S Archive, explained that her and Ryan’s childhood was relatively normal until the break up of their parents in 2003 in-part due to Mark’s struggles with alcohol.
“He would always take the stance that he would help himself and not accept other’s help,” she said. “He was a very proud man. He did try with us. It’s a hard thing to get over when you’re a proud man and know you’ve got problems.”
Despite periods in which he gave up the habit, his epileptic seizures eventually led him back to drinking while keeping family at a distance and his whereabouts quiet.
Tess Dealing, Mark’s sister, said: “He was honest. What you saw was what you got, he didn’t beat around the bush with anyone. He was always there and if you ever needed anything it wasn’t too much trouble.”
Little did the family know that Mark had been struggling to stay afloat but was keen to turn his life around. Days after his tragic death on July 24 2013 he was booked on a rehabilitation course.
At his bedside, Hannah and Ryan were asked whether Mark wished to become an organ donor – they did not hesitate in saying yes. Despite his past, Mark’s kidneys were deemed healthy and were transplanted, saving the lives of a man in his 40s and one in his 50s.
Mark’s family is speaking out in support of the YEP-backed Be a Hero campaign to encourage people to sign the NHS Organ Donor Register.
Tess, from Birkenshaw, said: “It’s heartbreaking for us but we can all keep our heads up high and know Mark’s organ donation has given life back twice and then for their children and children’s children. Two people are alive now because of Mark, he would be so proud of that. He would give you the shirt off his back.”
Mark’s 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 Mark has been awarded the United Kingdom Award for Organ Donation from the Order of St John.
Martin Patterson, the crypt’s fundraising director, said it was “hard not to like Mark Wakefield”.
He said: “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 DONOR REGISTER AND BE A HERO
The Yorkshire Evening 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 YEP, 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 their death, and signing up to the register is simple and easy.