Story Of A Comeback

March 29, 1995|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Even though the blond, bespectacled 6-year-old boy can walk without the wooden cane that comes up to his waist, his therapist wants him to use it until his gait improves. He sometimes wobbles from side-to-side, a reminder of a car accident that left him in a coma for 3 1/2 weeks.

Daniel S. Miller doesn't remember the car wreck last July 22 on Route 32 near Burns Crossing Road in Gambrills. Even after he regained consciousness nearly a month later at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, he could not talk, walk or feed himself and was paralyzed on the right side.

He has come a long way, though. A small scar on his stomach is the only reminder of the feeding tube. He can talk now, though his voice is low, breathy, unintelligible. When he says "sneezing," it sounds like "neezing," said his mother, Tina N. Miller, 29.

"He's had to relearn everything from ground zero," said Mrs. Miller.

Daniel, who lives in Glen Burnie, spends an hour every Tuesday receiving physical therapy at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

"He's functioning. He's walking. He can play with his friends. But he probably won't be able to do the things you and I do," said his physical therapist, Cheryl VanRensselaer.

Doctors don't know if he'll ever be able to run without difficulty, or if he will be able to speak clearly. Still, his mother believes her spunky, blue-eyed son will be able to lead a full life.

"He's a tough and ready kind of kid," Mrs. Miller said. "He's always been the leader of the pack."

Sometimes he forgets his injuries. He walks fast and thinks he's running. The family has hidden his trampoline because he wanted to jump on it, even though his lack of balance probably meant he would fall and hurt himself.

They bought him a Big Wheel bike so he could work on strengthing his right leg muscles. His eyes were badly swollen after the accident. He has to wear a patch over his left eye six hours a day, until the right one improves.

In six months, doctors may try an operation to correct his vision. The rest of his recovery will have to come in time, Mrs. Miller said.

The Millers considers themselves fortunate. Insurance covers most of Daniel's medical bills, Mrs. Miller said. Her husband's co-workers at Baltimore Gas and Electric near Solomons Island held a benefit raffle in January and raised $2,500 to help the Millers buy eyeglasses, leg braces, bath rails and other items for Daniel.

His father, Robert W. Miller, 29, works as a draftsman at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Mr. Miller's co-workers gave him some of their vacation time, five weeks worth, so he could be with his son after the accident.

"I shouldn't say I was pretty surprised at what happened, but I was," Mr. Miller said of the company allowing his co-workers to donate their vacation time.

Mrs. Miller initially put in for a 12-week leave of absence, then quit her job as a customer service representative at KLF Inc., a food broker in Columbia, to be with her son.

"I felt so much guilt for so long. I'm supposed to be mommy. I'm in the car," Mrs. Miller said. "I went through this thing where I was like, 'Why can't I have a broken leg or something.' "

She was taking Daniel to Children's World, a day care in Columbia, when she drifted into a moving van parked on the shoulder of the road. It was 8:16 a.m. She had taken her eyes off the road to help Daniel spot some horses they waved to each morning.

It was Labor Day weekend before Mrs. Miller, who was not seriously injured, could drive again. She and her husband were on their way back from Marley Station Mall when she made an off-the-cuff remark about driving again. Her husband stopped and gave her the wheel.

She said that experience wasn't as hard as the first time she drove with Daniel. They went together to the Wal-Mart in December to get a birthday card for his father.

She was hesitant to drive him, "but how do you tell him mommy's afraid . . .?" said Mrs. Miller, who now keeps Daniel on the middle of the rear seat. "And I don't want him to be afraid of cars too."

Yesterday, after an hour of therapy at Kennedy Krieger, Daniel returned home. He fired a couple of cannonballs from his Fisher-Price castle before the school bus came to take him to Oakwood Elementary. He has attended Oakwood since January and is in its Early Childhood Intervention program, where he gets a chance to socialize with other children, and get additional physical, occupational and speech therapy.

He still needs a little help to shift to the right, his weakest side. But when it came time to shift to the left yesterday at his weekly therapy session, he firmly told his therapist, "I can go left by myself."

Still, Mrs. Miller said, "we've come a long way."

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