After earning a master's in business administration at Temple, he held a variety of top executive posts at companies such as Bankers Trust, Citicorp, and Advanta. His life up to that point seemed a splendid example of achieving success through diligence and determination.
One day in June 2006, Marshall drove to Worcester Township, Montgomery County, to inspect tree work on a property where he and his longtime partner, Donna Pappas, planned to build their dream house. He was in the grip of a high fever from an infection following a prostate biopsy.
As he turned the key in his SUV to leave, he suddenly passed out and keeled over. No one else was around, and Marshall remained in his car, unconscious, until 7:30 the next morning when he was discovered by the tree crew. He was rushed to Mercy Suburban Hospital in Norristown and admitted to the intensive care unit.
Donna raced to his side from her home in Rye, N.Y. For the next four days, as the infection raged unabated, Marshall was still in a coma. His survival, Donna says, was "touch and go" and she braced herself for the worst. Marshall underwent kidney dialysis twice, and his gallbladder was removed. He regained consciousness but remained in the ICU for five weeks.
The diagnosis: septic shock that caused a multifunction shutdown and anoxic injury at the cellular level in his cerebellum, the region of the brain that plays an important role in motor control.
During the fourth week, several aides helped Marshall get out of bed and sit in a chair. For a month, Marshall had been flat on his back, and he was looking forward to a change of position.
Now, for the first time, he was upright, and, as he explains it, his "internal gyroscope" began having trouble adjusting. He began to shake and flail violently. Donna was alarmed, fearful that her beloved's ability to lead a normal life might be compromised permanently.
Truth to tell, Marshall had no idea what was possible, but he was confident he had the resolve to "do whatever it took to become a robust person again."
That meant eight weeks at Bryn Mawr Rehab in Malvern, trying to relearn how to perform the most basic tasks, such as walking, speaking, and moving his hands with dexterity. Some of his brain cells had died from lack of oxygen, but Marshall experienced no loss of memory or cognitive function. He left inpatient therapy in a wheelchair.
There followed eight more months of outpatient therapy, three days a week, six hours a day. When that was over, Marshall was able to walk with a walker and roam the hallways of the facility with a hand touching the handrails.
"There were tremendous gains in strength and coordination," Marshall recalls, "but my speech was still challenged."
Nevertheless, he and Donna celebrated his remarkable comeback by getting married in February 2007, on the 25th anniversary of their first date.
Since then, Marshall has continued to improve with the help of several "guardian angels": Jim Stephens of Havertown, a physical therapist and Feldenkrais practitioner (walking and body control); Brian Kilrain, a physical therapist at the Becoming Center in Ambler (strength, coordination and overall conditioning); and Staci Friedman, a speech coach (vocal endurance and more normal speaking).
Today, Marshall, who is 73 and lives in Ambler, can walk independently, drive a car, and play golf. In short, he is living again.
What enabled him to fulfill his pledge? First and foremost, he lauds Donna ("fearless, courageous and even more determined than I am"). He also praises the staff at the hospital and rehab center who were so devoted to his care and recovery.
"I was lucky," Marshall reflects, "because everything I had done before got me ready for this. I had learned how to work hard, I was physically fit when it happened, and I have succeeded at whatever I tried. This all came together to give me confidence that I should and could give it a try. I was too young in here" - he taps his chest over his heart" - to give up."
"Well Being" appears every other week, alternating with Sandy Bauers' "GreenSpace" column. Read his recent columns at www.philly.com/wellbeing.