Meliah Miller was a young woman who loved life, her family, people, camping outdoors, the edge of the seat adventure and her job. She had it all. She was beautiful, bright and a blessing to those who were lucky enough to know her. She also silently struggled with cystic fibrosis. She was diagnosed as an infant and fought the disease all of her life with pills, breathing treatments and a ‘can-do’ attitude.
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, more than 10 million Americans are symptomless carriers of the defective gene that causes cystic fibrosis (CF). CF is an inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestive systems in which a defective gene and its protein cause the body to produce an unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs causing life-threatening lung infections. This mucus obstructs the pancreas, stopping natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.
“She was an awesome lady. She was a trooper and such a strong person.” Her husband, Cliff Miller said, “She would often reach out to influence other patients who shared her illness and encourage them. She was a close friend and mentor to Shelbyville resident Makenzie Rentfro, who also battled CF. She had a gift in touching lives. Makenzie would get down about something, and Meliah would lift her spirits with a conversation.”
Cliff continued, “It was amazing how she touched people. Everyone seemed to know her. No matter where we went people knew her. I remember going to St. Louis once, and we ran into someone there who knew her. She was very family-oriented, and she loved her nephews so much. They were among the most important people to her in the world.”
Meliah was a former colleague of Shelby Memorial Hospital (SMH). She started with a student internship with Lakeland College and then became employed in the health information management department (HIM) of SMH.
Lorrie Hayden, HIM manager, said, “Meliah loved to laugh. She would come in and say, ‘Tell me a ‘Kristin story.’ Kristin is my daughter, and she wasn’t quite 10 when I worked with Meliah. I would tell her the story of the day, and she would laugh. “She was so full of life with a positive energy that was contagious. The whole department loved her. She was such a blessing that it was very hard to lose her because it was as if we lost a part of ourselves. Her picture still sits in our department as a way to keep her with us.”
John Bennett, past CEO of SMH, also worked with Meliah at the hospital. He cared about her and was supportive of her with her illness. He tells this story: “She was a special lady, and everybody enjoyed her. Before her untimely death, she became so ill that she could not work here except for one day a week. That day was Thursday. I would make it a point to walk down through her department on Thursday as a show of support. I would encourage her. Her co-workers and I had a pact that lasted long after her demise.
“On Thursday, no matter what problems I was dealing with in running the rest of the hospital, I would take a break and walk down through her department. I would look at her coworkers and say ‘Well, it’s Thursday.’ They knew that meant it is time to take a moment and remember Meliah. I did that every week until I retired,” said Bennett.
“She wanted to be a mother. She became pregnant in 1999, but the pregnancy took such a toll on her health. We were faced with a terrible decision -- the hardest decision in the world.” Cliff said, “She wanted nothing more than to give life to her baby but the pregnancy was too much for her fragile state. We had to induce labor very early, and our baby boy was born prematurely. He was underdeveloped, and he only lived a few hours.”
“Because of the strain of pregnancy, she was forced to wear an oxygen cannula for the rest of her life. She lost her battle with CF the following year. She was 24 years old. Her parents were told she wouldn’t live beyond the age of 16, but she did. She taught everyone around her how to live too,” stressed Miller.
Meliah Miller is just one person in Shelby County who has battled with CF. Over the next five weeks, through a series of articles, others will be introduced.
Meliah’s last words, according to her mother, were, “Don’t let people forget me.”
It is with this intention that HSHS Good Shepherd Hospital, formerly known as Shelby Memorial Hospital, is sponsoring an event on September 30, called Great Strides for Cystic Fibrosis. The event will be a walk to provide hope to those still battling CF, to raise awareness of the disease and to raise funds for its cure. No one wants to see another light like Meliah’s extinguished before its time because of CF.
The first mile of the Great Strides for CF is named Meliah’s Mile in honor of Meliah Miller.
Join us on September 30 at the General Dacey Trail at the north edge of Forest Park in Shelbyville for fun, music, food, community, education and to do battle with the life-threatening disease, CF.
Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the walk will commence at 9:30 a.m. The walk is only one activity at the Shelby County Cystic Fibrosis Event. There will be more information to come on the other activity at the Shelby County Cystic Fibrosis Event which is a bike-a-thon and trike-a-thon. These activities are named Abbie’s Ride.
To learn how you can volunteer at the event, raise money for this cause, walk as an individual or assemble a team of your own, please visit shelbycf.org for more information.