As a child, Eric Miller was always checking out anatomy books. He would read through them learning as much as he could about the human body, so no one was surprised when he said he wanted to be a doctor.
Yet life rarely follows a straight path and Miller, who became a Christian at 17, instead became a children’s pastor who occasionally thought of medicine.
“I resigned as a pastor in 2002 and we moved to Spokane from the Seattle area,” Miller said. “My wife suggested I go back to becoming a doctor, but it wasn’t the right time. So she suggested nursing and that was that.”
Today, Miller is a pediatric oncology nurse at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, and he is the recipient of the first Golden Heart Award presented by the American Childhood Cancer Organization Inland Northwest.
It was initially very difficult for him to accept the award.
“If I was a car salesman, and I sold a lot of cars and got an award that would be different – but how do you quantify care?” Miller said. “I was very humbled. And I’ve come to accept it.”
Miller said he feels very strongly that any number of people he works with deserve the award just as much as he does.
“We work as a team: nurses, doctors, physical therapists, all of us,” Miller said. “That’s another reason why it feels awkward to be singled out.”
Miller, 36, is married to Jenna Miller and the couple have five kids. The family lives in Otis Orchards.
Their oldest son, Micah, died when he was just 16 months old in 2003 shortly after the couple had moved to Spokane.
Miller was carrying Micah on his back in a child carrier when the two were struck by a van.
Micah never regained consciousness.
“It was so tough, it was terrible,” Miller said, adding that having lost a child gives him a much more personal understanding of what the families in the oncology unit go through. “Going through that experience I feel like I have something to share.”
A self-described night owl, Miller works the night shift, and he has been at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital for six years. His patients range from newborns to young adults.
Oncology is about many other things than chemotherapy. It also includes treating side effects from medication and other medical issues that come up during treatment. And it’s not just about the patient.
“We act as support for the family as well,” Miller said. “We are there when we lose a child, or when a child first comes in with a fever and we find out it is cancer. We are there.”
American Childhood Cancer Organization Inland Northwest – formerly known as The Candlelighters – has been around for more than 30 years. Started by a group of parents with children who had cancer, ACCOIN provides practical and emotional assistance to children with cancer while they are undergoing cancer treatment.
“They do so much for the children,” Miller said.
Mary Anne Ruddis, executive director of ACCOIN, said the idea behind the Golden Heart Award is to recognize those who do the hands-on work with children with cancer and their families.
“The staff at the hospital sees us at our worst and at our best,” Ruddis said. “We wanted to be able to recognize someone who goes above and beyond his job description.”
Parents and children were handed a simple ballot and asked to pick no more than three “favorite people” at the oncology unit, and that’s how Miller was picked.
“He is just amazing,” Ruddis said. “Anyone who meets him falls in love with him.”