When an emergency happens, you hope your community will be there to help.
That’s exactly what the Destin community has done for the Miller family.
When 6-year-old River Lee Miller was rushed to the emergency room on Dec. 26, doctors discovered an abnormal cluster of blood vessels in the brain that had ruptured — and a tumor. Doctors removed everything in emergency surgery, and the tumor ended up being benign. After nine days of being in a coma, River Lee woke up and began the long and tedious healing process.
Her family spent 29 in the hospital before being transferred to a rehab center in Jacksonville.
On Feb. 9, the Millers came home.
“Seeing where she started in December to where she is now is nothing short of miraculous,” said Anna Nordlander, River’s kindergarten teacher at Destin Elementary School.
After hearing about the Miller family’s ordeal, Nodrlander organized a fundraiser to help cover River’s medical expenses.
“It was just the right thing to do,” she said. “I feel like any teacher that had the opportunity to help out one of their students in this way, would have done the same thing. It’s why we teach; we teach to help.”
On Feb. 26, the Rally for River Lee was held at Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House. For $10 a plate, guests enjoyed a barbecue buffet, live entertainment and a silent auction.
“I’m really kind of mind blown at how the community has come together for this little girl,” Nordlander said. “I’m happy we have a community that supports people and children in need. That’s important to me and it makes me feel really blessed to live here.”
With over 200 people attending the rally, River Lee’s dad, Ash Miller, was surprised by the large turnout — and touched by the outpouring of support. As for River Lee, she spent most of the time making sandcastles with her friends and being a normal 6-year-old again.
“It was great to see her having a great time and at least help her forget about it for a little while,” said Miller Phillips, the owner of Boshamps. “We had a much better turnout than we even expected even with the terrible, terrible weather.”
For the foreseeable future, River Lee will be in physical, occupational and speech therapy to get her back on track. Nordlander will also be going to the Miller’s home every day after school and throughout the summer, to make sure River Lee is able to return to school next year.
“A lot of what is going on with River is not necessarily about if she understands or can do this or that, it’s more so physical,” Nordlander said. “Mentally, she’s there.”
“We played a game of Yahtzee and she was doing the math like that,” Nordlander said with a snap of her fingers. “It’s just verbalizing what she’s trying to say is a big challenge for her.”
Doctors won’t know the extent of River’s injury until 18 months after her surgery, but her family and friends have no doubt she will make a full recovery.
“She’s determined, independent and she doesn’t give up,” said Teresa Miller, River Lee’s mom. “She’s improving more and more every day.”