The school year at Saluda Trail Middle School had barely gotten underway when Julie Marshall’s phone rang. One week later, Marshall is recovering from a double organ transplant while her students and colleagues raise money to assist her.
Marshall has struggled with diabetes for many years, said longtime friend and colleague Cheryl Ford. She was put on the waiting list for a kidney and pancreas transplant, and she was close to receiving the organs several times during the last few years. But each time, the plans fell through.
They didn’t this time, and Marshall is recovering after surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said her husband, John Marshall. She hasn’t needed any insulin since the surgery, a sign that her new pancreas is doing very well.
The Marshalls are still down in Charleston, although Julie Marshall was discharged from the hospital earlier this week. She plans to come home soon but will need to travel to Charleston weekly for a few months for checkups.
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Throughout the entire process – from her Type 1 diabetes diagnosis 22 years ago, to her renal failure that began four years ago, to the dialysis that’s kept her regularly hooked up to a machine for the last 14 months, to the transplant last week – Julie Marshall has always remained in good spirits, her husband said.
This summer, while Ford and Julie Marshall were planning their curriculum for the year, Marshall expressed concern that she’d get the organs at the beginning of the school year and have to leave her kids for weeks to recover, Ford said.
“She said to me, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ and I said, ‘Well, you’re going to do what you need to do, and we’ll take care of it,’ ” Ford said.
The fact that Marshall would worry more about the well-being of her students than having major surgery didn’t surprise Ford at all.
“I can’t tell you a teacher I know of who is more devoted than she is,” Ford said of Marshall, who has been a teacher in Rock Hill and Fort Mill for the last 30 years, according to her website.
Marshall cares deeply for her students and is well-known at Saluda Trail for her positive attitude and always having a smile on her face, Ford said.
Principal Brenda Campbell agreed. “She just has such a wonderful presence in the classroom,” she said.
Back in the spring, in an essay submitted to The Herald’s Favorite Teacher contest, then-seventh grade student McKenzie Rockholt said Marshall’s “positive attitude shines and makes learning fun and exciting.”
Despite dealing with her illness, McKenzie wrote that Marshall never slows down, is always there for her students and makes a difference every day.
Even when she had to go to dialysis nearly every day, Campbell said you would never have known Marshall was sick because she was such a happy person.
Marshall’s reputation reaches beyond Saluda Trail, said Rock Hill School District spokesperson Elaine Baker.
“Julie has been an outstanding teacher in this district for years,” she said.
In 2009, Marshall was named the District’s Teacher of the Year and was then named a finalist for South Carolina Teacher of the Year, Baker said.
Marshall’s new students, her current seventh graders, know that she’s been out for a transplant. But the Saluda Trail eighth graders really have a grasp of what’s going on, Ford said, because Marshall worked last year to educate every single one of them about diabetes and kidney disease.
“She showed them her insulin pump,” Ford said. “She was very open about it.”
Saluda Trail students love Marshall, she said, and even created a video at school to wish her well.
Throughout her journey, Clayton Moton, assistant principal at Saluda Trail, said Marshall has been documenting everything so she can turn this into even more of a learning experience for her students.
“In her mind, the first thing she’s thinking about is, ‘How can I use this to take back to the kids?’ ” Moton said.
As the doctors and nurses were preparing her for surgery last week, Marshall asked them to take photos so she could show her students, John Marshall said. When the Marshalls were asked if interns could assist on her case at MUSC, Marshall didn’t hesitate.
“She said, ‘I’m a teacher; of course they can help,’ ” John Marshall said.
This year, Marshall and her fellow teachers were designing a project-based-learning unit on health, medicine and disease, said Moton and Campbell. Marshall’s experience was helping the teachers reach students on a deeper level, Campbell said, to give them a new perspective on what they were learning.
John Marshall said it’s always been their goal to be as open and communicative about the process so everyone can not only keep Julie in their thoughts and prayers, but also the organ donor’s family.
“Someone had to go through a tragedy for this to become a reality for us,” John Marshall said.
Since Marshall gave so much of herself to Saluda Trail and her students, even in the midst of her illness, staff members and students across the district – and even the state – are working to give back to her.
They have created a Go Fund Me website to help offset Marshall’s medical bills, as well as making a T-shirt with “#DocMarshallStrong” on it to raise funds and show support for Marshall.
Marshall is always there whenever a student or staff member needs support, Moton said.
“We want to do the same for her in any way we can,” he said.