Documentary charts life of terminally ill Sheffield man who plans to donate his body to science – ‘That’s not dying, that’s carrying on’

A terminally ill man from Sheffield who refuses to take pain medication, plans to donate his body to medicine and regularly carries 11 stone in weight on his back in a bid to reduce seizures is making a documentary about his life.

By Audra Lee
Friday, 16 August, 2019, 15:07
Mark Taylor. Picture: Dan Shore

Mark Taylor, aged 46 and nicknamed 'Tal', suffers from a traumatic brain injury that he says lay dormant for decades after a road accident when he was just five years old.

The father-of-three, who lives near Park Hill, successfully applied to Sheffield University in 2018 to donate his body and brain to medical science and he hopes his story will raise awareness of brain injuries, and the law around bequeathing bodies for research purposes.

Mark, a former nightclub doorman, said his health began to deteriorate in 2001.

“The doctors put it down to depression and anxiety and put me on lithium,” he said. “I lost the use of the fingers in my left hand in 2002. After numerous operations, it reached an untreatable stage and about seven years ago, started to take me out. Having an injury like this, the brain normally lasts no longer than ten to 13 years.”

His condition gradually worsened to the point where he was prescribed a cocktail of medication and eventually had to use a wheelchair.

However, Mark was determined to defy his prognosis.

“I stopped all the pain relief, I didn't want the doctors to have to peel off layers of tissue that's contaminated,” he said. “I want the brain to be as natural as possible, let's see what happens when a man fights back.”

For the past two years Mark has carried 11 stone of weight around on his back in a rucksack – a practice he refers to as 'pebbles in pockets' – which he says reduces his seizures immensely.

“The training originates from the Ukraine – in other countries you are boot-camped with brain injuries and pushed every day. I have concrete blocks, paving slabs, block paving, the entire set of weights from a multi-gym and lots of stones and bricks all from Sheffield in this bag.”

Mark bought some leg braces in 2018 so he could leave his wheelchair behind and walk again, and he now runs twice a week.

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In 2018 Mark commissioned filmmakers Dan Shore, 25, and Chris Thompson, 23, to chart his incredible journey which they have made into a full-length documentary.

Together they captured Mark's recent climb up Win Hill in Derbyshire – over 1,500 feet above sea level – and a month later filmed him at The Cellar Theatre in Sheffield where he performed his first stand-up comedy at the Big No No Comedy Club.

Dan said: “It is an amazing thing that he is doing, and it needs to be shared so me and Chris took it on and we have enjoyed every moment of it.”

The hour-long documentary is due to be screened in October although a venue has not yet been secured.

Chris said: “We require a venue that has a 150+ capacity. The documentary is aimed at raising awareness of brain and body donation for medical research, while at the same time showing people that you don't need to stop fighting. ‘Tal’ aims to inspire people to find the motivation to keep pushing through your illnesses. Everyone is fighting their own battles, you just have to push through them to have the quality of life you deserve.”

Mark said: “I live with this condition and its agony, but I fight it naturally every day. I could have relaxants and pain relief that would ease the condition but not cure it, but I want my brain in donation to be clean of contamination so when my body gets opened up we can see the effects."

He added: “I am so excited that the university has accepted my body and brain because to me that’s not dying, that’s carrying on. If this story inspires one person then it’s all been worth it, if it inspires two people then it’s a miracle”.

Mark will be performing comedy on stage at the Sheffield Carnival at Norfolk Heritage Park on Saturday, August 17.

Wendy Howard, bequeathal officer at University of Sheffield, said: “We are incredibly grateful to all of those who choose to donate their body to the University. Body donation plays a crucial role in medical education and training with our donors helping to teach more than 800 students a week across a variety of courses such as medicine, dentistry and biomedical sciences.

“The process of donation is simple. Those interested can sign a consent form and then the University can make a decision on whether it can accept their body once the donor has died.

“We endeavour to fulfil these important wishes if we can and encourage all of those interested to inform their family of their intentions. For more information or to request an information pack about body donation, please visit:https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/alumni/donate/bodydonation.”