Lucedale Family Lead State Team at National Transplant Games

LUCEDALE, Miss. (WKRG) – A Lucedale business owner and his family lead the state’s delegation to the Transplant Games of America in San Diego, Calif., this month. This is the seventh national competition for David Miller, who has received an organ transplant twice, and his wife Tammy. They manage the state team while David also serves as the 10-pin bowling captain for Team USA in international competition.

The Miller family at the 2019 World Transplant Games in the UK

Joining the team was a full circle moment for Miller, a standout baseball player when he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia at age 11.

“It was kind of like freezing in time and then starting over again,” Miller said. “Like having the body of an 11 or 12 year old child but going back to an infantile stage where you have to learn to walk again, you have to rebuild your immune system [and] come back being able to deal with colds and sickness and everything else.

He missed a year of school after receiving an experimental bone marrow transplant in 1985, the first in Alabama. He was not fully released from medical care until he was almost 17 years old.

Miller then fully recovered. He got married, started his career, and returned to playing softball three nights a week as an active 25-year-old in Semmes, Ala.

In 1998, he began noticing slower reaction time and upper midline pain. What he thought was a bruised chest turned out to be cirrhosis of the liver. A blood transfusion received after the first transplant infected him with HIV. His doctor said he had three months to live.

“It was like a bad case of deja vu. I was mad. I was mad. I mean, I couldn’t believe it was happening again. Having a transplant, bouncing back from it, and then all of a sudden Suddenly the doctor comes in and says ‘Oh, yeah, you have liver failure, you need to have another transplant.’ Starting it all over again was nervous and scary,” Miller said.

His nerves were soon soothed with prayer and the vision that he would be healed with a new liver and few complications. Within three months, the couple were in New Orleans where Miller underwent a 10-hour surgery to receive the new liver and recovered quickly.

“I bowled with Team USA, I bowled with Team Mississippi. We have won four or five gold medals at the world championships, two or three here at the national championships. I own my own business, we have our first child. I mean, life has been a blessing. This is not the road you are supposed to take. But it has been a blessed life,” he said.

Finding the Games came at a time when Miller felt lost after the second transplant. Six of his childhood friends went on to play college baseball, three in the majors. He was eager to get in on first base, but baseball isn’t offered in games.

He fell into bowling where he won a bronze medal in his first national games. He has since competed across the world, from Argentina to Sweden to South Africa, in six World Matches and received a key to the town of Lucedale.

“In Sweden, it was a moment of well-being. Lots of smiles, lots of happiness and succeeding or winning a medal in your sport against other countries was good. That’s when you felt like you finally got what you were looking for,” Miller said.

Outside of gaming, the Millers own Floorz N More, a business they moved to Lucedale in 2018. Their six-year-old son, Easton, also keeps them busy, recently taking up bowling himself.

They also help defend the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (MORA) which helped Miller find the liver of a 30-year-old man. Their parents chose to donate the organ after their deaths, a choice Miller said he let live. Miller’s bone marrow transplant was from his four-year-old brother, a perfect match.

100,000 Americans are on the waiting list for a transplant, including 1,300 in Mississippi. Donor registration is done when obtaining or renewing a driver’s or hunting and fishing license, and through the Donate Life website. A donor could save up to eight lives through organ donation and help 75 people through tissue donation.

Anyone can register to donate, regardless of medical history or age. MORA answers many common questions about the process on its website.

“The inspiration of the games is to motivate you, to make you fight a little harder and to thank donor families and living donors, to recognize them. Give them something to see in a positive way and strive to succeed so that we all push each other a little bit harder,” Miller said.

20 athletes from Mississippi will compete in the national games from July 29 to August 3 in their own age categories. The youngest is 6 years old, the oldest 84 years old.

Team Mississippi at the 2018 National Transplant Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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