Manchester City surprise super fan at Willow Wood Hospice

A SUPER Manchester City fan was given an incredible surprise when the club he loves so dearly visited Willow Wood Hospice where he is currently a patient.  

Mark Whittaker, 56, has been supporting City almost since the day he was born, attending his first match with his dad when he was just two weeks old.

As well as being a professional photographer and a driving instructor during his career, he worked as a matchday steward at the Etihad Stadium for many seasons and was one of 50 City fanatics chosen to recreate special moments from the club’s history in a documentary film called Blue Moon Rising, which was released in 2010.

Mark with wife Julie and trophies

Mark was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in March this year and, after receiving support from Willow Wood nurses and therapists at his home in Denton, he was admitted to the ward at the Hospice in Ashton-under-Lyne, earlier this month.

As a special surprise for Mark, Willow Wood staff got in touch with Manchester City FC, who arranged for representatives from the club to bring the four trophies they current hold – the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League and Super Cup – to Mark’s room for him to see.

Mark with WWH therapist Nicola Burke

Mark also received a gift from the First Team squad in the form of a signed shirt while the club also kindly donated a glove signed by goalkeeper Ederson to the Hospice as an auction prize for our Grand Ball, which raised £600.

Mark’s first experience of hospice care was when he was referred by his Consultant Oncologist to a specialist palliative care nurse.

His specialist palliative care nurse was Genine Kirkwood, who first went to see Mark several months ago as he was experiencing symptoms that required closely monitoring in the community. Genine stated, when handing over to the Willow Wood Hospice Therapy team, how much he loved Manchester City and really wanted to get to one of their games.

Mark with Man City trophies

Genine then referred Mark to the Community and Wellbeing team at the HIVE to attend their Be Active group, as she felt this would enhance his mental wellbeing, and he attended both Movement to Music and Art sessions.

Mark was also able to enjoy Reiki sessions with Willow Wood’s Complimentary Therapist, which he found relaxing.

Mark’s condition deteriorated and he was finding it more difficult to get out of the house.

So Willow Wood’s Therapy team visited Mark’s home and found he was struggling due to extreme fatigue and reduced mobility, as well as finding it increasingly difficult to engage in some of his basic everyday tasks such as showering.

Mark, wife Julie and trophies

The therapists allocated Mark with equipment to promote independence in things he wanted, needed and had to do. Therapists work towards keeping a patient’s functionality and mobility going and creating strategies to help them engage with daily activities.

The hospice and community teams also work towards addressing goals that are meaningful to the patient and empower them to make their own decisions and ensuring they can still create precious memories with their loved ones.

Whilst the therapists visited Mark, he stated that his goal was to see Manchester City play again at the Etihad and he lived his week waiting for the games at the weekend.

Mark had a box booked at the stadium on two occasions but, due to ill health, he was sadly unable to attend.

Nicola Burke, a Specialist Occupational Therapist at Willow Wood, looked into the logistics of transporting and mobilising him safely and comfortably to and from the stadium to enjoy the game he loves.

As he was unable to get to the match and as he was now only living upstairs in his home, Mark felt if he couldn’t get to City, City could come to him.

So his therapists made sure that Mark was able to watch a game from his bedroom and was able to invite some of his friends to experience it with him.

After the Willow Wood Therapy team made numerous visits to Mark’s home, he was referred to the Inpatient Unit at the Hospice for symptom control so that he could receive 24-hour holistic and therapeutic care from the specialist multi-disciplinary team.

The care Mark is receiving is aimed at managing his pain so that he can return home to his own surroundings and do things that are meaningful and purposeful to him.

Nicola made contact with the Hospice’s Income Generation team after spotting promotion for a Football Night Fundraiser, which involved former Manchester City player Peter Barnes.

They got in touch with Chris Smith, one of the organisers of the fundraiser, who arranged for Peter to record a short video message to send to Mark.

Seeing the video made Mark’s day more meaningful and made him reminisce about when he used to watch Peter play for the club.

Mark has been at the Hospice for around two weeks. He still receives Reiki on the ward and is seen by the Therapy team and palliative care nurses on the ward.

During his time at the Hospice and within the community, he and his family have been offered counselling services and spiritual support via our volunteer chaplains. The volunteers on the ward and kitchen staff have also been supporting Mark and ensuring all of his needs are met.

Mark’s current goal is to return home so the Therapy team are looking at bringing his bed downstairs so he can see his own garden and spend time with his beloved dog.

The Willow Wood team will continue to visit Mark, if he is discharged, to ensure that he and his family have the service support they need so that they don’t feel alone.

Nicola Burke, Specialist Occupational Therapist at Willow Wood Hospice, said: “We can’t change a patient’s life-limiting condition but we can try to make the time they have as holistic and meaningful as possible. We want to try to make a positive difference to their life.

“A hospice is about living with a life-limiting condition as best as a patient can so they can still be as independent as possible for as long as they can and to help them keep their role and identity and feel they have a purpose in life.

“Hospice care isn’t just within the walls of the hospice, hospice care can also be delivered in a patient’s own home if that is what the patient and their family prefers.”

Karen Houlston, CEO of Willow Wood Hospice, commented: “We are very grateful to Manchester City Football Club for engaging with us and bringing their trophy collection to the Hospice as a surprise for our patient Mark. I want to thank our amazing staff who have supported Mark.

“This is a shining example of how the Hospice works together as one team towards the common goal of ensuring all the needs of our patients and their families are met, including collaborating with our partners and external organisations to achieve this.”

Mark’s wife Julie Whittaker is grateful for the support he has received from Team Willow Wood.

Julie said: “Everyone at the Hospice has been exceptional. From the moment you walk in, you feel like you are in a very loving and comfortable place. Mark’s time here at Willow Wood has been all we had hoped.

“It’s a real home from home environment and he has had such loving, professional and caring treatment and been made to feel comfortable, safe and looked after.”

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