What started as a fun afternoon of bike riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway quickly turned into a life-and-death situation for Matt Miller.
Shortly after cresting Reed’s Gap at 2,640 feet, Miller lost control of his bike and careened into oncoming traffic, hitting a car head-on. What followed next was nothing short of miraculous.
Mark Harris, MD, an area anesthesiologist, was behind the car Miller hit, and he quickly performed life-saving interventions. Within 10 minutes, rescue workers arrived and transported Miller to Reed’s Gap where he was airlifted to UVA Medical Center.
In the next 24 days, caregivers at UVA, from surgeons to nutritional services, cared for Miller and helped him get back to a normal life. Miller remembers a lot of the caregivers by name or face, but more significantly, he remembers their kindness.
“Matt was unusual because he had less than 5 percent body fat,” says Kelly O’Donnell, RD. “He had to consume more than 4,000 calories by mouth daily, and his mouth was wired shut. It really pushed him to the limit. I wanted to put in a semi-permanent feeding tube through his stomach, but he was adamant about getting the calories through his mouth.” And he did.
A Nutrition Services employee helped. She scoured the Medical Center for Breeze fruit juice, Miller’s drink of choice. “Sometimes she would say, ‘We don’t have anymore.’ And then show up 30 minutes later with six that she had gotten from other floors,” says Miller. “A lot of people did more than their job description, but she took time out of her day to get me what I really wanted.”
Miller also remembers an ICU nurse who took time to talk about more than his medical condition and vital signs. “I was not just a traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor. I was a student, boyfriend, son, friend. They really recognized me as such, and that made a big difference,” says Miller.
Miller recounts story after story of staff, residents and physicians who showed patience, compassion and kindness for him, whether it was sharing a smile even when he pressed the call button for the 10th time at night, or rebuilding a splint for his shattered pinkie finger less than 24 hours later because he had ripped it off in the night. And while Miller can remember some of the names, he knows there are dozens more who were a part of his recovery who will probably always remain unnamed.
Miller had a remarkable recovery. It was fast and complete. “Matt’s an exception to the rule. Often, someone who sustains a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury does not fully recover. Matt’s story is extraordinary in the extent of recovery and the accomplishments that he has had after his head injury. Some of his success is attributable to the superlative care that Matt got at UVA. However, a lot of the success is a direct result of Matt’s perseverance and dedication and his family’s devotion to him,” says Jason Sheehan, MD, Neurosurgery.
“His effort, his gumption, his get-up-and-go, really played a part in his recovery,” says Jared Christophel, MD, Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, who was the Chief Resident who cared for Miller and is now an Attending Physician.
Miller finished his semester at UVA with straight A’s, graduated on time and is now in his second year of medical school, something that he was interested in before the accident. Sheehan explains that most TBI patients have a much longer recovery that typically takes six months to a year and often isn’t complete. “Matt really defies the odds in so many ways,” says Sheehan.
Miller says he thinks his experience as a patient will always impact the way he delivers care as a physician. “I hope to always see the patient as a person. I will never lose sight of that,” says Miller. “The kindness extended to me resonates more now that I have been in the hospital [as a medical school student]. I see how busy they are.”
As a Level I Trauma Center, at UVA, we care for a wide variety of patients with complex and traumatic injuries every day. What is common every day for us is extraordinary for our patients. When each of us take the time to smile, treat our patients and guests as individuals and go the extra step, we make a lasting impression — one that improves our patient satisfaction, improves outcomes and allows us to reach our clinical strategy of being the provider of choice. Kindness Counts.