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JBLM wife inspired to become pediatric nurse following child’s illness

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Though she began taking courses just last year, Leah Miller's journey toward nursing school began more than five years ago when 2-week-old daughter Riley was diagnosed with a tumor in her airway.

Though benign, the tumor "caused many complications and near devastating results," Miller wrote in a speech delivered Nov. 8 at the University of Washington Scholar and Donor Recognition Reception.

For more than three years, Riley was critically ill, requiring in-home nursing care for 12 hours a day when she was not in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit following one of her more than 30 surgeries. Having just completed another surgery last month, Riley, 5, who attends full-day Kindergarten at Hillside Elementary on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, is on the road to recovery. Her prognosis is good.

Having a very sick - possibly terminal - child, "really changed my perspective about everything," Miller said. "Now I don't take small things for granted, and I don't whine."

Married to Staff Sgt. Jason Miller, a military policeman currently stationed in Korea, and mother to four other children (Hayley, 17; Whitney, 16; Sydney, 8; and Cody, 7), Miller, 35, is currently working toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at the University of Washington School of Nursing in Seattle. "My daughter's strength inspired me to return to school and work toward a nursing degree," she said during the speech, where she was awarded a scholarship. "When I look at her, she's always been happy and strong."

Having previously worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Miller has long "desired to become a nurse," she said. But (I) did not have the confidence that I was smart enough to make it through the prerequisites."

But being responsible for a gravely ill child - and learning how to change feeding tubes, administer medication and more - helped Miller see that not only could she do it, she would be good at it. "I hope to have a positive impact and improve the quality of lives of my patients and their families, whether the encounter is short or long term," she said.

After graduation this summer, she hopes to work as a nurse in pediatric hematology or oncology. "My daughter's tumor had a fascinating etiology, which sparked my interest in this field," she said in her speech. "While taking care of her, I learned so much about caring for ill children, the heartache on the caretakers' part ... and the amazing treatments out there for cancers as well as benign tumors and the use of chemotherapy in those tumors."

She also plans to join the U.S. Army Reserve or National Guard. "I come from a strong military family," she said. "I feel a need to serve, to wear the uniform. I'm a very patriotic person."

Her children are supportive and excited about her journey. With her husband stationed overseas, "I couldn't do it without Hayley and Whitney," she said. "They want me to do this and they want me to succeed."

"It's like with Riley's situation," she said. "Failure wasn't an option. Her dying wasn't an option. And me not succeeding (isn't) an option."

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