1. O'Shaughnessy, Patrice


An ED nurse helps blind children reenter the world.


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Eric Miller said that life changed in the blink of an eye at 5 pm on June 5, 2000, when his son Garrett was diagnosed with cancer. "Medulloblastoma," Miller said. "A five-year-old should never have to learn that word."


Brain surgery left Garrett with impaired vision, as well as mute and paralyzed, but months of physical therapy and two years of speech therapy improved all but his sight. Left blind in his left eye and with little vision in his right, Garrett nevertheless "was pretty stoic," said his dad. "Only once did he say something about his blindness. He was sitting on the sofa, and he turned to me and said, 'I just can't do what everybody else does.' It breaks your heart," Miller said, choking up at the memory.


But Miller found a way to brighten his son's world of darkness and then started a foundation to help scores of other blind kids. The youthful-looking 41-year-old is also an ED nurse, paramedic, triathlete, and National Guardsman in Pueblo, Colorado. He describes himself-unnecessarily-as "so type A I can't sit still."


An article about a blind tandem bicyclist, Matt King, who rode in the Paralympic Games, caught his eye. "We're an active family, we're always doing something, and I figured this was something to get Garrett out there," Miller said.

Figure. Medulloblast... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 'Medulloblastoma. A five-year-old should never have to learn that word.'. Courtesy of Eric Miller

When he presented Garrett with the bicycle built for two, the boy's first remark was poignant: "How will I use my cane with it?"


"I explained that I would be doing the steering, he'd be in the back seat, pedalling," said Miller. "He was so animated. He wouldn't be sequestered in darkness anymore."


Tandem bikes can cost $1,500, a price many families cannot afford. So Miller; his wife, Nancy Rush Miller, who is also a paramedic; and some friends formed the Rush-Miller Foundation in 2001 to raise money to purchase tandems.


"We've given away about 80 tandems, to families in 23 states and six foreign countries," said Miller. "I like to say the sun never sets on a Rush-Miller bike."


When the foundation presents a bike to a family, Miller said the reaction "is the same as Garrett's every time-a big smile. It opens up an avenue, it opens up the world. The parents are on the bike with the child, creating memories-the bike is profound."


Miller said most of the recipients are children who were born with or developed blindness; nine or 10 are kids whose cancer caused them to lose their sight.


Families that receive a bike are asked to find donors for the next family's bike. "We want to motivate people," Miller explained. "We don't give them to just anyone who asks; there has to be a need, and the family has to be the type to get out there and use it with the kid."


Most of the funding comes from individual donors, but one day someone from the Lance Armstrong Foundation, LIVESTRONG, called Miller out of the blue. The multimillion-dollar foundation started by the Tour de France legend and cancer survivor has helped Miller's grassroots cause by purchasing tandems for them to distribute.


Miller rode across the country with Armstrong in 2003 on his Tour of Hope. "He's a very nice guy," he said of Armstrong.


Of being a paramedic, Miller said he loves it, even though "we're underpaid, and under-appreciated until people need us."


On Flights for Life-helicopter flights staffed by volunteers to transport nonemergency patients-he got to watch nurses up close. "I was just blown away by the critical care," he said. "They were fantastic. So I decided to become a nurse."


He works at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, whose ED ranks as the busiest in the state and the sixth-busiest in the nation, with almost 100,000 visits a year, according to Miller. "How many jobs are there where you meet people at their most vulnerable time and you can affect their lives in a profound way?" he asked.


He and Nancy also have two other boys, Ryan and Benjamin, and a daughter, Haley, but Miller somehow found the time to form another kind of partnership with Armstrong's LIVESTRONG. He's spreading the word about the LIVESTRONG Survivorship Notebook, a handy guide for people with cancer that covers everything from handling financial affairs, to chemotherapy, to Internet resources.


"My son was diagnosed in an ED. Many people are-and then they send you home with no resources after you've been given the worst news of your life," Miller said. "These booklets should be available to everyone because they're so helpful, and they're free," Miller said. "Information is power." Nurses who e-mail him at will be sent notebooks to distribute at EDs, clinics, and physicians' offices.


Garrett, now 12, attends the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs. He's in remission, and his participation in a clinical trial upped his chance of surviving to 80% to 90%, Miller said.

Figure. Eric Miller,... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Eric Miller, cofounder of the Rush-Miller Foundation, with his son Garrett, as they run in the Prospect Lake Triathlon in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in June. The foundation provides free tandem bikes to children who, like Garrett, are blind. Courtesy of Connie Kreider

"You would not be able to tell he's blind," boasts his dad. "He rides a single bike now. He doesn't slow down; he hits a lot of bumps, but he loves it. I forget that he's blind sometimes."


Miller doesn't consider himself a do-gooder. "Everything we've given away has come back to us," he said. "I'm proud of it, but it's also been a way of dealing with the pain. It's been seven years since the diagnosis, but it could be yesterday. I still cry about it, it's so painful. Thank God Garrett's with us."


And through the work of his own small foundation, Miller strives to reach the goal that came to him as he saw his son's despair lessen with each stroke of the pedals.


"I had a vision of thousands of kids riding bikes," he said happily.


Patrice O'Shaughnessy