Major Miller’s battle with cardiomyopathy reached a critical point in February 2021. His swollen heart and lungs made breathing difficult. “I needed help immediately,” he said. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Major feels great after a successful heart transplant in February 2021. New life is also on the way. He and his wife Anna are expecting a little boy. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Major’s heart treatment began in October 2015 when he went to an Ohio hospital to be fitted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
The LVAD kept Major running for more than five years. But the device’s alarm began to beep incessantly. Doctors found a clot. He had already suffered two strokes. His situation got worse. (Courtesy photo by Anna Miller)
Major was assigned to a heart and cardio-thoracic surgeon Marzia Leacche, MD, of Spectrum Health performed the transplant. “It went very well,” she said. “He did very well.” (Photos courtesy of Anna Miller)
In his recovery, Major learned to measure success in the smallest of steps – a chest tube removed, a wound healed. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Once his LVAD power line hole healed, Major said he would swim and swim again in the lake. “I am mentally and spiritually stronger than before,” he said. “Physically, I’m coming back.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Major remains deeply grateful for the care he receives from his team. Doctors continue to monitor his heart with biopsies and regular visits to the transplant clinic. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Major knows that his recovery is a team effort and that he has changed physically. “It’s a strong heart,” he said. “I can tell it is pumping a lot.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“He’s always been so kind and grateful for everyone he’s interacted with,” said Jackie Oliai, NP, of Major. “I feel happy to be part of his care and part of his life.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“He and Anna are successfully getting used to his new life while preparing for a new life at the same time,” said Megan Stickroe, post-transplant coordinator. “He inspires and motivates me.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Major is working hard to build the business he started in 2019, Modular Lamination & Metalwork. His protective bichon-Yorkie Bane accompanies him to work every day. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“I will encourage my son not to get into alcohol and drugs,” said Major. “There are better things to do, better ways to spend your money, better ways to treat your body.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Major Miller, 40, always worked hard and played hard.
Miller discovered his passion for ice hockey at the age of 4. He eventually played in Grand Rapids for the Whalers, later named the Griffins after the AHL minor league team. In his senior year as a skater, they won the Midget A State Championship.
“The banner is still hanging in the Patterson Arena,” he proudly states.
In his youth he enjoyed traveling to far-flung places such as Austria, Belize, China, Germany, Hawaii and Tobago.
“Activity has always been part of my life,” says Miller.
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it quickly stopped activities for Miller and millions of others.
This wasn’t the only reason the Grand Haven, Michigan resident slowed down.
When his previous lifestyle caught up with him a few years earlier, his existing battle against cardiomyopathy reached a critical point.
“I had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse,” Miller said. “Despite the athletics, I used my heart a little too hard.
“It was difficult to breathe when my heart and lungs swelled up. I needed help immediately. “
Miller’s heart treatment began in October 2015 when he went to an Ohio hospital to be fitted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).
Doctors also put him on a waiting list for a heart transplant.
Marzia Leacche, MD, now a cardio-thoracic surgeon at Spectrum Health, performed the procedure on Miller in 2015.
Miller returned to Ohio for his first follow-up appointment, driving six hours each way. “I did it once and knew that something had to change.”
He was looking at Spectrum Health cardiologists Sangjin Lee, MDwho previously worked at this Ohio hospital, was his “ace in the hole”. Soon he passed his care to the team of Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, near home.
He was on a daunting journey to better health.
“Initially, he was not a surgical candidate for a transplant,” said Dr. Leacche.
Miller lived with the help of the LVAD and waited until the time came for him to become a candidate for a heart transplant and eventually get on the list. He has learned to take everything calmly.
“If you are a control freak, medical problems are not for you,” he said.
Miller was still working hard during his LVAD experience and heart transplant, sometimes from a hospital bed.
More than five years have passed.
In February 2021, when his LVAD alarm began to beep incessantly, Miller went to the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center.
Doctors found a clot. He had already suffered two strokes. His situation got worse.
Within three days, doctors assigned Miller a heart.
Dr. Leacche performed the transplant on February 19th.
“It went very well,” she said. “He did very well.”
Miller recovered quickly and returned home on March 4th.
Months later, he’s a new person. He’s as active as ever.
He’s working hard to build the business he started in 2019, Modular Lamination & Metalwork. His protective bichon-Yorkie Bane accompanies him to work every day.
He loves helping clients solve problems and figure out how to get things done.
New life is on the way too. He and his wife Anna are waiting a little boy in August.
“I am grateful to God and the nurses and team who have made it possible for me to make progress every day,” he said.
In his recovery, he learned to measure success in the smallest of steps – a chest tube, a wound that was healed.
He has adapted to life without LVAD.
“Sometimes I still think it’s there,” Miller said. “I keep an eye out for doorknobs, get up carefully, constantly protecting the phantom bag.
“Walking without luggage is nice. I can sleep on my stomach. I can go to the John Ball Zoo without goats trying to chew through my wires. “
He quickly realizes how he has changed physically. He needs to warm up properly now before exerting himself as his heart needs time to “get up and go”.
“It’s a strong heart,” said Miller. “I can tell it is pumping a lot.”
He’s also learned that recovery is a team effort.
“A doctor indicated that I was participating in my treatment and recovery,” Miller said. “You’re not telling me what to do. It’s a collaborative effort. “
With the approval of the cardiology team, he will forward his own physiotherapy.
“I proved it in the hospital and challenged myself,” Miller said. “I know my body better than anyone. If I go too hard, I stop. “
He trains often and lifts weights daily. He’s running and skating again.
He gains strength and speed.
And once his LVAD power line hole heals, he will swim and swim again in the lake.
“I am mentally and spiritually stronger than before,” he said. “Physically, I’m coming back.”
Miller has found ample support from his care team at Spectrum Health.
Nurse Jacquie Oliai met him when he first came to Spectrum Health as a patient.
“He has always been independent and committed to his care,” said Oliai. “He took a lot of hurdles to get to where he is today. He looks after his new gift very well and has the chance to give birth to his first child soon.
“He was always so nice and grateful for everyone he dealt with. I feel happy to be part of his care and his life. “
Miller’s do-it-all attitude also impressed heart transplant coordinator Megan Stickroe.
“A lot of people don’t realize how overwhelming or difficult it can be to learn a new normal,” said Stickroe. “The first few months are intense. He and Anna successfully get used to his new one Life while you prepare for a new life. He inspires and motivates me. “
Dr. Lee directed much of Miller’s care, watching his health close – from extreme illness to transplantation to a quality life.
“These people put their lives in our hands,” said Dr. Lee. “It is not easy for such a young person to have terminal heart failure. Every time I see him in the office, it reminds me of how far he has come. “
Miller is an inspiration, said Dr. Lee.
“Major reminds us of the joy of caring for patients and restoring their quality of life,” he said. “It really is something. It’s humbling to see he’s doing so well. “
Miller doesn’t look back.
“I have no regrets,” he said. “I wont. Every decision I’ve made has made me who I am. I will encourage my son not to get into alcohol and drugs. There are better things to do, better ways to spend your money, better ways to treat your body. Better opportunities to experience life. “
Miller remains deeply grateful for the care he has received – and he expressed this in a letter to his team.
Dr. Lee recalls the letter, particularly this passage: “You made certain calls and decisions that brought me into the here and now: the endgame – transplant – new life.
“You won. I definitely won.”
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