LUCEDALE, Miss. (WKRG) – A Lucedale business owner and his family are leading the state’s delegation to the Transplant Games of America in San Diego, California this month. It’s the seventh national competition for David Miller, a two-time organ transplant recipient, and his wife Tammy. They manage the state’s team while David also serves as the 10-pin bowling captain for Team USA in international competition.
Joining the team was a full-circle moment for Miller, a stand-out baseball player when he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia at 11-years-old.
“It was kind of like, getting frozen in time and then you started back over,” Miller said. “Like having the body of an 11 or 12-year-old but going back to an infant stage where you’re having to learn how to walk again, you’re having to build your immune system [and] go back through being able to handle colds, sickness, and everything else.”
He missed a year of school after receiving an experimental bone marrow transplant in 1985, the first in Alabama. He wasn’t fully released from medical care until nearly 17-years-old.
Miller went on to fully recover. He got married, started his career, and went back to playing softball three nights per week as an active 25-year-old in Semmes, Ala.
In 1998 he started to notice a 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 Hepatitis C. His doctor said he had three months to live.
“It was like a bad case of deja vu. I was mad. I was angry. I mean, I couldn’t believe this was happening all over again. To have one transplant, rebound from it, and then all of a sudden the doctor comes in and says ‘Oh, yeah, you’ve got liver failure, you got to have another transplant.’ Just starting all over was nervous and scary,” Miller said.
His nerves were soon put at ease through prayer and receiving a vision that he’d be healed with a new liver and few complications. Within three months, the couple was in New Orleans where Miller underwent a 10 hour surgery to receive the new liver and recovered quickly.
“I’ve went on to bowl with Team USA, bowled with Team Mississippi. We’ve won four or five gold medals at world, two to three here at nationals. I own my own business, we’ve got our first child. I mean, life’s been a blessing. It’s not the road you’re expected to take. But it’s been a blessed life,” he said.
Finding the games came at a time where Miller felt lost after the second transplant. Six of his childhood friends went on to play baseball at the collegiate level, three in the majors. He was eager to sign up for first base, but baseball isn’t offered in the games.
He fell into bowling where he won a bronze medal at his first national games. He’s since competed across the world from Argentina to Sweden to South Africa in six world games and received a key to the city of Lucedale.
“In Sweden, it was a feel-good moment. A lot of smiles, a lot of happiness and to succeed or to medal in your sport against the other countries, it was good. That’s when you felt like you finally completed what you were searching for,” Miller said.
Outside of the games, 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 getting into bowling himself.
They also help advocate for the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (MORA) who helped match Miller with a liver from a 13-year-old. Their parents chose to donate the organ after their passing, a choice Miller said let him live on. Miller’s bone marrow transplant came from his four-year-old brother, a perfect match.
100,000 Americans are on waiting lists 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 Donate Life’s website. One 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 their website.
“The inspiration of the games is to motivate you, make you strive a little harder, and give gratitude to the donor families and the living donors, recognize them. Give them something to see in a positive manner and strive for success so we all push each other a little bit harder,” Miller said.
20 athletes from Mississippi will compete at the national games July 29 – August 3 in their own age divisions. The youngest is six-years-old, the oldest is 84-years-old.