Raymond Hall was told he had three months to live. That was more than 17 years ago.

Hall is a Vietnam-era Marine veteran. After he developed heart problems related to his service, he underwent years of treatments with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“They tried everything,” Hall said. “They did consultations with Stanford and so many other hospitals.” The VA enrolled Hall in experimental programs, one of which made him sicker than when he’d started. By February of 2000, Hall had become so ill that the VA entered him into palliative care. He was told he was in end-stage heart failure and would not get any treatment beyond managing his pain.

But on a Sunday morning in late March of 2000, Hall was feeling so sick that he drove to a nearby medical center in Inglewood seeking help. Fortunately, a cardiologist told Hall about Keck Medicine of USC’s team. Keck School of Medicine of USC faculty members Vaughn A. Starnes, MD, chair and Distinguished Professor of surgery, H. Russell Smith Foundation Chair for Stem Cell and Cardiovascular Thoracic Research, and Mark L. Barr, MD, associate professor of surgery, took on Hall’s case.

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“We can’t know what the future will be, but at least you’ll have a chance,” Starnes told him.

Hall was admitted to USC on April 4, 2000. “The miracle started there,” he said. “It was the most amazing experience. They made me feel like I wasn’t dying. I had been to doctors who would walk into the room and not even talk to me. Dr. Barr always asked, ‘Mr. Hall, how are you feeling?’ first thing. Dr. Starnes was the most respectful doctor you could ever want to meet.

“The nurses were phenomenal. One brought me an In-N-Out burger because she knew I love them. And once they moved me to a new room just to change my view. Who cares about you so much that they want to change the scenery for you?”

Hall received his heart transplant on June 6, and walked out of the hospital just 10 days later. Hall continues to come in to Keck Medicine’s CardioVascular Thoracic Institute for check-ups, happily under the care of cardiologist Luanda Grazette, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine. And he has been making the most of his new chance.

Hall’s experience led him to work with veterans and seniors, with an emphasis on making a difference through community service. Today he is an L.A. County commissioner for older adults and an assemblyman in the California Senior Legislature. He is most proud of starting A Senior Salute, an organization that recognizes veterans who have gone on to do community work. The first ceremony was held in 2002 at what Hall describes as “the poorest senior center in L.A. County.” The 2015 ceremony was standing room only at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

“It’s all because of USC,” Hall said. “I can’t tell you what this hospital means to me.”

By Lex Davis