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To be a Saint – Marshall’s Story

“To be a Saint, you must make the worst better and the better great…”

Part of the Columbus Saints Creed

Marshall Cheatham, former Vanderbilt football player turned social worker and juvenile corrections officer, is a hero. In decades working with youth, Marshall saw that youth in the juvenile justice system felt little connection to their community, so he set out to build connections.

In 2003, Marshall founded the Columbus Saints Drumline with six kids drumming on a picnic table in a park. He used the power of music and teamwork as tools to point youth toward success. Today, the Saints (up to 70 members strong) are a nationally competitive drum and bugle corps building relationships and connecting members to college, military and professional opportunities. Marshall’s leadership built the foundation of an environment which emphasizes education, friendship, personal responsibility and team building through the performing arts. However, as the Saints grew in number and success, they faced a challenge that would put their creed to the test.

Part of the Saints’ Creed is “We will NOT give up.” At a routine physical, Marshall unexpectedly learned his kidneys were failing. Two years later, and critically ill, a kidney transplant was Marshall’s only hope.  Now the Saints’ hero needed a hero of his own – an organ donor.

Joining more than 100,000 others on the national transplant waiting list, Marshall relied on dialysis to keep him alive. He had plenty of reasons to be discouraged. The average wait for a kidney transplant is five years and 13 people die each day waiting for a kidney for transplant – but Marshall NEVER gave up.

Spending five hours on dialysis, three times a week was hard, both physically and emotionally. Dialysis limited his opportunities to travel, to visit his children and grandchildren and greatly reduced his role with the Saints. However, through it all, Marshall modeled what it means to face adversity with courage and determination. The youth in the Saints watched Marshall living their creed.

After five grueling years of dialysis, Marshall finally got the phone call he had patiently been waited for– a kidney from a deceased donor was available for transplant. He needed to report to the The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center as quickly as possible.  Eight hours later, Marshall was in surgery, receiving the kidney that would give him a second chance to live life fully once again.

Today Marshall is back in full capacity with the Saints. He and his wife, Lisa, are active Ambassadors for Lifeline of Ohio, sharing his story at organized events and in casual encounters in their day-to-day life.

Marshall does not yet know who his donor was. However, he wants his donor’s family and loved ones to know how incredibly grateful he is. “They lost a loved one. No words can bring anybody back or make you feel better when you’ve lost a loved one. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to say. I know that it’s going to be filled with gratitude. I’m going to let them know how thankful we are for this second chance.”

“I would like them to know that this kidney will never be taken for granted,” said Lisa. “It will always be appreciated. And the gift will be used for good.”

Marshall’s donor hero gave him the gift of life, but that gift reaches so much farther than just Marshall. Restoring Marshall’s health has been a gift to his family, to the Columbus Saints, and to all the lives that Marshall continues to touch.





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