Even after her passing, Heather Miller is still saving lives. Her story will soon be told in a documentary series by Gifted Productions, thanks to a chance encounter through connections made by organ donation.
Miller, 21, was a senior at the West Virginia University School of Nursing, just a few weeks shy of graduation. As an organ donor, five of Miller’s organs were able to be recovered after a fatal car crash in 2008, including her heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas. Four of the organs were able to be transplanted and recovered tissue has helped enhance more than 50 lives.
“People out there are living because of my daughter,” shared Heather’s mother Jody Miller. “I’ve met her kidney and liver recipients. No words in the dictionary can describe the gamut of emotions I’ve gone through, but ultimately, this is what Heather wanted — she wanted to save lives.”
Following her daughter’s passing, Heather’s father Gary and Jody, along with Heather’s three siblings, Sarah, Samuel and Nathan, as well as other family and community members, established the Heather Miller Memorial Golf Classic to raise money for nursing scholarships. As of September 2022, nearly 200 nursing scholarships have been given to local students.
The family also participates as part of Team Alleghenies in the bi-annual Transplant Games of America, which are Olympics for people with organ transplants. The event gathers thousands of transplant recipients, living donors, donor families, individuals on the waiting list, caregivers, transplant professionals, supporters and spectators for the world’s largest celebration of life.
During the 2018 games in Salt Lake City, 10 years after Heather’s passing, the Miller family was introduced to Robert Horsey, author of GIFTED, which gives the donor family perspective of organ donation. Horsey is also a critical care registered nurse who has dedicated most of his 23-year career to the field of Organ Donation and Transplantation.
Jody invited Horsey to the Heather Miller Memorial Golf Classic to sign copies of his books. He participated two years in a row, greeting attendees from as many as 10 states. Horsey not only attended the tournament, but he also hosted flag raisings for CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education) and spoke at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital about the power of organ donation.
A couple years ago, Horsey pitched the idea of a documentary series to the Miller family and asked if they would be interested in featuring Heather’s story. With the Miller family on board, the documentary was set to move forward — until COVID hit.
After a hiatus, the effort is moving forward once more. A trailer has been released which features The Maddog Strong Foundation, named for Maddie “Maddog” Grobmeier who passed away unexpectedly from an asthma attack the day after her 18th birthday. Through her passing, Maddie saved the lives of many people through her magnanimous gifts of life.
Fundraising efforts are still underway for the docuseries, which will focus on the heroism of organ donation. The WVU School of Nursing has contributed $2,500 as a supporting sponsor.
“Heather’s memory will live on in many ways, especially here at the School of Nursing,” said Tara Hulsey, Dean of the WVU School of Nursing. “We are honored to support this effort which will not only tell Heather’s story but will illustrate the importance and impact of organ donation.”