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Marcus Kayal's family honors his memory with Hearts4Marcus, screening Mahwah High School students for potentially deadly heart trouble

Mahwah honors legacy of Marcus Kayal with life-saving initiative
Mahwah honors legacy of Marcus Kayal with life-saving initiative 07:34

MAHWAH, N.J. - Nothing prepares a parent for the loss of a child, and George and Debra Kayal know that all too well. 

In 2019, they tragically lost their son Marcus to sudden cardiac arrest. Now, they're making sure his name won't ever be forgotten.

"You have to be vigilant and find ways to keep his memory memorialized. We feel like his name is staying out there and people who didn't know him, now can hear 'Marcus Kayal, Marcus Kayal, Marcus Kayal.' He must've been a special kid. He was amazing. He was beyond special," said Marcus' father George Kayal. 

The youngest of five boys, Marcus was a superstar soccer player, a stellar student, and a world class brother and son. 

"Very easygoing, just kind of a happy-go-lucky type of kid, with the level of soccer he played. He played internationally in Europe. He experienced so much life in his 16 years. That, at least, is something we can be at peace knowing, that he lived in amazing beautiful life while he was here," said Marcus' mother Deborah Kayal. 

On the night of December 26, 2019, the Kayals' lives changed forever.

"We had a wonderful Christmas. It was kind of unbelievable. We spent all of our time together with our family," George said. 

At about 8 p.m., the five brothers went down the street to their grandparents' house to be with their cousins.

"We got a phone call at about midnight from one of my sons that Marcus had passed out. They said he just stood up out of his chair and he just collapsed," George said. 

They administered CPR right away and Marcus was rushed to Valley Hospital.

"We were there for hours, and he just wasn't recovering. They couldn't get a heartbeat to come back. And we just couldn't believe it. Our minds were like 'This is a nightmare. This is a bad dream. What could possibly have happened? Like, this is not happening.' And they said 'We're sorry,'" George said, becoming emotional. "Luckily my sons were there, my niece, my nephews were there. We just hugged him, and kissed him, and told him how much we loved him, and we kissed him and we said, thankfully, we said we need an autopsy, because we don't know what's going on," George said. 

"We needed answers, because it was such a shock," Deborah said. 

"We needed to find out what happened," George said.

Marcus passed on December 27, 2019. Late the next morning, the autopsy revealed a two-inch scar on the posterior wall of his left ventricle, which could've caused the sudden cardiac death, but no one knew for sure. 

"Did anybody ever call you with a definitive this is what it was?" CBS2's Chris Wragge asked. 

"We finally got the genetic testing, and they said that they found that Marcus had a gene," George said.

"Everyone has the PPA2 gene, but he had a pathogenic variant," Deborah said. 

It was a genetic anomaly that exists in both mom and dad.

"Marcus ended up having both of them," George said. "Everyone has genes that are not designed properly. But if you have a specific combination, then it can create any number of different diseases," George said. 

To honor Marcus's legacy, the Kayals created Hearts4Marcus. Through the charity, over 120 Mahwah High School kids will be screened with EKGs and echocardiograms that are optional, and confidential.

"This is what we need to do. This is what Marcus would want us to do," George said. 

Everywhere you look in the Kayal home, you can feel Marcus' presence - from his room, still untouched, to his image, visible from every corner. 

"Every Christmas card still includes his face. I'm not sending one if I can't include my five sons. So we have five sons. One lives in heaven, but we have five sons," Deborah said. 

For more information about Hearts4Marcus or the Marcus Kayal Legacy4Life, CLICK HERE

To sign up to have Chris Wragge visit your school, CLICK HERE.

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