Family working to save lives, end heart disease

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GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Mary Beth Miller's life had a purpose. In seven years, she most likely touched more lives than most people touch in a lifetime.

Mary Beth, called MB by her friends, was born Oct. 17, 2005, with a congenital heart defect. It's called Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, which means she had no right ventricle. She underwent six open-heart surgeries and numerous heart catherizations, as well as 350 various medical procedures. She had a heart transplant in 2012.

It's a lot to go through, but at least she had a fighting chance for treatment of her condition, detected at birth.

Now, thanks to her story and the mission of her parents, Mark and Stacee Miller, numerous other children will have that same chance.

A state law now requires that newborns be tested with a pulse oximetry before being released from the hospital. Before the law was passed, it was not required, and many heart defects were undetected.

The test detects the level of oxygen in the blood, which can identify numerous heart and lung conditions. The test costs $10 and is as simple as a sensor being placed on the finger for results.

The procedure became law in August 2012. Between then and Mary Beth's death on March 23, 2013, health issues were detected in 15 kids, Mark said. Five had pulmonary issues, five had minor heart issues and five had one of seven most serious heart conditions.

That's 15 kids who now have at least a fighting chance, Mark said.

"That was her purpose in life," he said. "The closer we got to losing her, the harder people worked to get (the law) done."

Since Mary Beth's death, her parents have been devoted to helping others.

"Part of our job is the promise to help the ones behind you," Mark said.

The Millers find peace in that Mary Beth's purpose in her seven short years was to make a difference in the lives of others.

"She did what she was supposed to do," Mark said, adding that past work by the American Heart Association led to some of the advances that helped Mary Beth.

"What was done 20 years ago gave me seven birthdays, seven Christmases and seven Halloweens with my daughter," he said.

Now the Millers are involved in the association's work, which helps raise money to fund lifesaving cardiovascular research and education in Alabama.

About 32,000 infants in the United States are born with a congenital heart defect each year. Research is needed to find improved methods of detecting and treating those defects.

Money raised Sept. 27 at the Northeast Alabama Heart Walk will help fund the much needed research, Rachael M. Wilson, communications director for AHA in Alabama, said.

"Families like the Millers are the reason why we fight to end heart disease," Wilson said.

Recent data shows that heart disease and stroke hospitalizations in Etowah County have decreased by 36 percent over the past decade because of improved quality standards in hospitals, breakthroughs in research and increased education, Wilson said.

However, Alabama has some of the highest death rates in the country for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans and is blamed for 34 percent of all deaths in Etowah County each year, Wilson said.

"It kills more people than all forms of cancer combined," she said.


Information from: The Gadsden Times,

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