Posted: May 31, 2013 at 1:37 pm

By Kayla Marley and Dave Marnell

For some people, they can never really grow until they lose something they love. In this sense it was the night of Nov. 29, 2012, that Kevin Merrill, a 23-year-old senior at West Virginia University and budding musical artist, found out what really matters.

“It takes a little bit of death,” Merrill said, “to really learn how to live.”

Merrill suffered a near-lethal infection after tripping over his couch. He was watching a replay of HBO’s “Friday Night Fights “boxing, at 3 a.m. on a Thursday in his off-campus apartment.

“My girlfriend was in our bedroom sleeping,” said Merrill, who performs under the stage name Deerbourne. “I got up from the couch to grab something from the fridge and after a stupid, little fall, I wound up wondering if I was ever going to play guitar again.”

Kevin Merrill, also known as Deerbourne, is recovering from a life-threatening infection that almost derailed his music career.

Kevin Merrill, also known as Deerbourne, is recovering from a life-threatening infection that almost derailed his music career (Photo by Kayla Marley).

After dislocating his clavicle while trying to catch his fall, Merrill’s upper chest began to swell to almost comic-book proportions.

“It finally looked so bad,” said his girlfriend Hanna Kemper, a 22-year-old bartender, “we finally said, ‘You know we should go to the hospital and get this checked out.”

Doctors told him the swelling in his chest was the result of a severe infection. They immediately ordered emergency surgery. A couple more days, they told him, he’d be dead.

“When they said, ‘Hey, you should be dead,’ It puts everything you live for in perspective,” Merrill said. “I suddenly realized that if I’m not playing music, for a living, everything else would be pointless. Whether I was CEO at Yahoo or a cashier at McDonalds, none of that would matter to me.”

That’s where this fall seemed to leave its biggest impact. Since the injury Merrill has been performing sold out shows as far away as Cleveland, while still frequenting local pubs, to do what he knows he cannot survive without; playing his music.

While his goal is to one day be on top of the musical totem pole, performing in places like California, Merrill knows that getting to that position will take a few breaks, beyond just the ones that happen in his body.

Recently in Clarksburg, Merrill performed at a local tavern. With him were friends and fellow rockers Darling Waste and British artist Paul Diello and Alan Bonner. He performed an acoustic set , showcasing both songs new and old. The small local crowd, about two dozen people, and fellow musicians alike, all showed their appreciation with raucous applause.

“Not only is he incredible on stage, but he’s also a true blast behind it,” Bonner said before Deerbourne performed. “He offers new insights, even with his older songs. It’s the kind of music you don’t mind hearing every day.”

Merrill smokes a cigarette a few hours before performing in Clarksburg on May 25.

Merrill smokes a cigarette a few hours before performing in Clarksburg on May 25 (Photo by Dave Marnell).

Once completely healed from the injury, which included a nine-week period with an IV injected directly to his heart 24/7, Merrill’s recovery took its form in the born again rate at which he began recording new songs.

“It definitely felt like something was awoken inside of him,” Kemper said. “He used to spend most of his time jamming or playing the same songs, but once he healed he started really forming his music with a stronger and clearer purpose.”

The infection that formed in his chest has healed. What it has left is an eight-inch scar, resulting from the surgery performed. But the scar is much like the infection that almost killed him; it’s not something he wanted, but perhaps it was exactly what he needed.