Life After Death

Destrehan, La. - Tragedy can bring out the best in people. A St. John Parish woman proves that everyday. Daniell Nielson's husband died in a senseless shooting more than a year ago; today she's finds solace in an unusual way.

"Sometimes I run because I need to think and clear my head. It's a place where I can just be," she said.

Daniell works out to work through unimaginable pain. She runs from the hurt of losing the love of her life.

August 16, 2012, St. John Parish Sheriff's Deputy Brandon Nielson died in an ambush. He was on a detail at a trailer park in Laplace.

Daniell was sleeping when she got a call from her mother.

"She said is Brandon home, just tell me if he's home," Daniell said.

Her mother told her some officers had been shot in St. John Parish.

Daniell called dispatch.

"Then another person got on the phone and said hang tight they're on their way to come talk to you," Daniell said.

45 minutes later the Sheriff confirmed her nightmare.

"He got out and was shaking his head no and I knew no meant he wasn't coming back home."

Daniell and Brandon had been inseparable. They married in 2004 and blended a family of four children between them. Then, their daughter Lily was born.

"We liked to do things together. We were comfortable, we were fine. We were happy with each other, but not so much with ourselves," she said with tears in her eyes.

They both struggled with their weight.

"I was cooking and we were eating. Brandon was not an exercise person and neither was I. I love the pictures of us together regardless. I don't like the way I looked and I didn't like the way I felt," she said.

One picture of Daniell clutching a flag at Brandon's funeral shows the depths of Daniell's despair. Her heart was heavy and so was she. It would take work to feel good again.

"I think at first I got to be I need to not fall apart in front of my kids. I need to show them no matter what life throws at you, you can pick yourself up and you have to go on."

A few weeks after Brandon's death, Daniell changed her life. She walked into a Destrehan fitness center desperate for a new beginning.

Anytime fitness owner Michelle Oubre knew Daniell's story and she and her staff wanted to help. They made a video diary from day one of Daniell's journey. They introduced her to her trainer. His name, Brandon Hebert.

"When they introduced me to him they said Brandon is going to be training with you and I said really? Brandon? Brandon is going to train me," she said smiling.

The name seemed like a sign.

"She came in and was very overweight, over 200 pounds. She was a smoker and talked about thyroid disease she had. These were all obstacles we were going to have to face at some point," Hebert said.

In the beginning the workouts overwhelmed the beginning the workouts overwhelmed her.
"The first day that she walked in we were doing a plank, a timed exercise. She collapsed to the floor," Brandon said.

But she never stopped.

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Slowly her confidence emerged.

By May of this year, Daniell was running and had lost 45 pounds.

She went from a size 18 to a size 4 or 6. 

"Which is insane!" she said. "Even in high school I wasn't a four or a six."

Coached by Brandon in the gym, but motivated by the Brandon she lost.

"I feel strong and I feel proud. Things I never anticipated being strong enough to do I'm able to do now."

She says when she runs she feels like her late husband is with her and would be proud.  Every step is a lesson for her kids about life after death.

"No matter what life throws at them they can look back and say my mom picked herself up and she did what she had to do."