Houston man brought back to life after heart attack now helping other heart patients

Valentine's Day is often called "heart day", but that has a completely different meaning for several Houstonians.

A young lady is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her heart transplant, while her mentor is waiting for his chance at a new heart.


The Darneilles have a lot to celebrate this Valentine's Day. Five years ago this week, complete drama and utter terror for them, after Marion rolled out of bed, fell on the floor, and died from a heart attack.  His wife, Kimberley raced to call 911 and started CPR.

"And I did it for about five to six minutes by our estimate, and then the first paramedic came in. And I started calling her, ‘I'm here, I'm here, I'm here.’ I could see the front door from where I was with Marion. And as soon as she walked in the room, I jumped out of the way and let her take over. He was blue, which I never believed people really turn that color blue, but he really was that shade of blue and they worked on him for a while and then they defibrillated him," says Kim.  

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"I woke up in a hospital two weeks later, not knowing what had happened. I really thought I had a car accident. The last thing on my mind as a 40-year-old guy, I just had a massive heart attack. Well, it did kill me because I was dead for about 19 minutes total time. They told my wife I was non-responsive to pain and light, which usually means my brain is fried. They told her I was probably not going to make it through the night. The chaplain was there to pray with them," says Marion.

Marion's heart failure cardiologist at Memorial Hermann explains what happened.

"He had extensive blockages and they felt that his heart was so weak and that he would not benefit from open-heart surgery and that the only option for him is to go for an advanced heart failure treatment and in his case, it was a left ventricular assist device, or what we call LVAD. So, in the interim, he was also put on a heart-lung machine, or what we call an ECMO machine, to support him because his own heart was not able to pump enough blood to the other organs and he was on complete life support," states Dr. Sriram Nathan, an Advanced Heart

Failure Cardiologist at Memorial Hermann and UTHealth.

They later got to re-visit the LifeFlight helicopter that rushed him to the hospital. They took time to thank all the first responders who helped save Marion's life. He beat all the odds and fully recovered more quickly than anyone could imagine.

"It is a complete and utter miracle that I have no deficits because they were telling my wife that I may never walk again. Or if I did walk, I'd have to relearn how to walk. I probably have to go to long-term care facilities. I may have to learn to speak again. A lot of things that never happened and I accredit that a lot to people praying for me," states Marion.

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The Darnielle's immediately started paying it forward. Not even a full week after he was discharged from the hospital, they were back at Memorial Hermann thanking medical workers for their role in saving Marion's life. They even became mentors for others going through the process of an LVAD. 

"When Marion was so sick, my first thing I started doing was praying that he would survive, and that it would be a testimony that God is real, miracles do happen. And so, from that we were able to go into these rooms and meet these people and just share the story and show them life is possible," states Kimberley.

They got to meet Keke Hill, a college student who was also being treated at Memorial Hermann.

"I woke up one day and my heart started palpitating and I couldn't walk, like I literally couldn't walk," explains Keke.

She entered a new fight for her life. It wasn't her first medical crisis. She battled a rare cancer called osteosarcoma when she was only 8 years old.

"First, she had a blood clot right after the chemo. She had the blood clot first and that's when induced coma came after that. And after that, they finished the chemo and the chemo gave her heart failure," explains her dad, Gregory.

As each year went by, he says her heart got weaker. She also received an LVAD, but couldn't accept it, until she met the Darnielles.

"They helped me a lot! Like I was depressed. I was. I didn't want to live, you know what I'm saying? So, they helped me a lot," states Keke. 

"I can attest to that. She was in a bad place, and we couldn't get her out of it. But when Marion and his wife came in, they talked to her, showed her the LVAD and explained everything. When they left the room, she was a totally different person," exclaims Gregory.

"She had just gotten her LVAD and so we were there to kind of encourage her, help her get her feet under her, explain what life is really like with an LVAD and just show her," states Kimberley.

"One of the reasons we went to see her why we went to see her is she was very young at that time and it's very depressing. It's very heart wrenching being a 40-year-old, it was like my life was over because I fell asleep feeling fine and woke up basically with a machine in my chest, being told I'm going to be plugged into a wall. I'm going to be on batteries (with LVAD), I wasn't a candidate for transplant at that time. So being able to talk to these patients and let them know that life continues really helped us all," explains Marion.

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That mentorship forever changed the way Keke looked at her situation. Now this Valentine's Day, she's celebrating the one-year anniversary of her new heart.

"I'm super thankful because I've seen three miracles with her. I mean, the right people in the right place at the right time and I do not know how it happened except for God," says her smiling dad, Gregory.

Dr. Nathan couldn't be more thrilled to see his patients not only surviving but thriving.

"Here is an amazing woman. As a childhood cancer survivor, she’s already fought through so much and then coming through and surviving congestive heart failure. She's a champion for people in her age group! She's showing resilience and that's what her life is all about. Then you've got the Darneilles, helping so many people and paving the way for a brighter future for them. This is taking care of them from the medical and psychological aspects," states Dr. Nathan.

Marion has been on a heart transplant list for three years and is hopeful the right match will come along at the right time.

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