After five years, the memory of their son’s smile still gives Eric and Jenna Miller joy.
The Spokane Valley couple survived the death in September 2003 of Micah, their 16-month-old boy, and have kept their marriage intact to bring three more children into the world.
“Both of us came from divorced families, and we determined that was not going to happen to us,” Jenna Miller said.
The Millers credit their faith in God for their resilience in the face of tragedy.
On Aug. 24, 2003, while the family walked, Eric, who was carrying Micah in a child carrier on his back, was struck by a van, its driver blinded by the sun. Father and son slammed into the van’s windshield.
Eric sustained a concussion. Micah never regained consciousness. After six days, the Millers elected to take their only child off life support.
While waiting in Sacred Heart Medical Center’s pediatric intensive care unit, the parents were approached by Chaplain John Brewer, who suggested they consider donating Micah’s organs, but they could not let their son die on the operating table, they said.
“It was important to us to be holding him when he died,” Jenna said.
Yet doctors were able to take Micah’s heart valves. One went to a boy in Boston, who later died. Another valve went to a New Mexican boy named Juanito, who had a congenital heart defect. Juanito is alive today thanks to Micah.
On Thursday, in celebration of Micah’s gift, Eric will ride on the Donate Life America float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. The float, titled “Stars of Life,” will bear Micah’s image, one of 34 “floragraphs,” or portraits created with floral materials, honoring those whose organs allowed others to live.
The Millers traveled to Pasadena on Dec. 7 to help decorate their son’s floragraph. The couple, sponsored by the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation and the American Association of Tissue Banks, were to return on New Year’s Day for the parade.
After their son’s death on Sept. 2, 2003, the Millers deferred grief counseling in favor of marriage counseling at their church, Mirabeau Chapel in Spokane Valley.
“We turned toward God, not away from him,” Eric said.
At first, Jenna believed she would never have more children. She could not risk going through such grief again. But she and Eric said God had other plans.
Before the first anniversary of Micah’s death, another boy was born to them. Now, the Millers say they have four children, one in heaven and three here on Earth – Owen, 4, Amelia, 3, and Peyton, 16 months.
In 2003, Eric Miller was taking courses at Spokane Community College in preparation for nursing school. After his son’s death, the college held his spot open for him while he took six months off to recover emotionally.
Inspired by his experience in pediatric ICU, Eric Miller finished nursing school and works today as a pediatric oncology nurse at Sacred Heart.
He said he has been able to draw on his experience to help other parents and occasionally, “if the time is right and appropriate,” he shares his story with them.
Though there are big differences, he said, between the potential death and the actual death of a child, “they know I have been through something similar.”
As for the driver of the van that killed their son, the Millers forgave him and invited him to Micah’s memorial service back in 2003. They said the man, who had a daughter Micah’s age, brought his family to the service.
As painful as it was to be the victim of the accident, Eric Miller said, “I would hate to be on the other side.”