Marcelo Bielsa's message to Leeds United fan with terminal cancer who once saved child's life
A woman has been reunited virtually with the Leeds United fan who saved her life after the Yorkshire Evening Post published a story about his terminal cancer diagnosis.
Heroic Mark White now 60, jumped into a lake in Batley back in 1993 to rescue four-year-old Hayley Johnson (then Windle) when she became trapped in the water.
The pair had not been in contact for more than 20 years but have reconnected since theYEP shared his family's appeal to get him to Elland Road one last time when the club takes on West Brom this Sunday.
Mark was over the moon to learn yesterday that his wish has come true and he is to be among the lucky fans who will watch Leeds' final match of the season from inside the stadium.
It promises to be a truly memorable event as supporters return to the ground for the first time in more than a year - and the first time since the club was promoted to the Premier League.
The news was delivered along with a message from the club's player and management - signed by manager Marcelo Bielsa - that thanked Mark for his loyalty, dedication and support.
Mark's spirits had also been lifted by hearing from Hayley after the YEP shared his story last Saturday.
Hayley, now 32, said: “My cousin tagged me in the article on Facebook and told me it was the man who saved my life. I was really taken aback by it."
Despite not being able to swim, Mark entered the lake and brought Hayley to safety to the delight of her panic-stricken grandmother.
The YEP's sister title, the Batley News, launched an appeal to find Mark at the time and successfully reunited the families.
Hayley then moved away to North Yorkshire and had not been in contact with Mark for more than 20 years.
She said: "My father passed away when I was 11, so from his daughter’s point of view I can imagine how she’s feeling. I wanted to reach out to let her know how incredible her dad is."
Mark's daughter quickly responded to Hayley's message and the pair have been sharing memories of the dramatic rescue.
“I remember snippets of it but not the whole story as I was only four," nursery worker Hayley added. "But it has left me petrified of ducks since! I have a giggle with the girls at work every time a duck comes by.
“I’ve never had that opportunity to tell Mark a massive thank you. I want to send him big virtual hugs, I want him and his family to have the most enjoyable time together while they can and just have a bit of a giggle with the story."
Mark, who still lives in Batley, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in August 2020.
After going through chemotherapy and surgery to have 75 per cent of his stomach removed, he got the devastating news that the cancer was terminal this January.
His daughter Tanya Gibbons, 30, said that Mark was overjoyed to hear that Hayley had reached out.
She said: "He was asking all about her and how she was and I showed him the messages.
"We've known about what happened since we were kids, we always tried to get him to swim and he couldn't. It must have been instinct just to jump in.
"He's done everything for us as kids, he's the rock of the family. We're so proud of him."