NOTE: The following is the second part of a two-part story
on Zach Miller, a 2006 Emmaus High grad left in a coma following an
August 2011 car crash in the Pittsburgh area. A fundraiser called Zumba
for Zach will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 7)
at Emmaus High. Doors open at 1 p.m.
What follows is a Q&A with Zach's father, Jack Miller:
--Interview by Jack Tobias
Q: When we talked on the phone, you were eloquent in your summation of Zach's life just before the accident -- he was about to get married, he had touched many lives. Then you said, "It all blew up when he went through that windshield." Using more detail, could you set the scene of where Zach's life was just before the accident?
A: Zach went to school to become a doctor. His major was Bio-chem. After he graduated, his passion became fitness, and [he] dreamed of starting a gym. Zachary started CrossFit at Pitt. If you go on their web page, it says "do not accept mediocrity," which is what Zach wrote on the wall at Pittsburgh CrossFit which he was affiliated with. He won 3rd place in a regional (several states) competition, and donated his prize money to wounded warriors. He was a sanctioned judge and trainer at CrossFit Pittsburgh. In one competition while still attending Pitt, he came in 2nd in the country. He won a solid gold medal which he proudly showed me.
Q: Can you relay some details of the accident -- where and when it was, was he driving or a passenger, what were the nature of his injuries.
A: As far as the accident was concerned, he was by himself in a borrowed SUV. (His car was getting serviced). From what I understand, while merging on the interstate, he was bumped from behind, which caused his vehicle to roll. I am sure if he was driving his Taurus, this wouldn't have happened. He wasn't wearing his seat belt, which always was a point of contention with me, and was thrown from his vehicle. They are not sure if he went through the windshield or out the passenger's side door. The police said it was his fault, and nobody else was injured so I didn't care to look into it further. The accident occurred on Aug. 5, 2011 on Interstate 79, out near Pittsburgh. My ex-wife [Susan Miller] reminded me to tell you she was on the phone with Zach when the accident happened. She heard a weird sound, and said call me back. When the phone rang, and it was Zach's number, she thought, good, he is calling back. However, it was a state trooper calling to say he was in an accident and still breathing.
Q: What is his current health status and what kind of treatment has he received? What are his prospects? And what about the financial cost of all this?
A: Immediately after the accident, I drove to Pittsburgh and Allegheny Hospital. When I walked through the packed waiting room, there was a hush I still remember. The doctors said he was still alive but only had a 10 percent chance to live. The next 72 hours would tell. He had both skull flaps removed, and his head was three times the normal size from swelling. He had a tube placed in his brain to drain fluid and keep the pressure down. It is still there. His prognosis is poor. Too many brain cells have been destroyed from the impact.
The doctors tell me that there is no magic pill that will correct the injuries. Rest is the only chance he has. He is currently on a regiment of Ambien at night and Ritalin in the morning. Dr. Kelly, head of neurology at Allegheny, said routine, rest and prayers are the only answer. He does have seizures, which was expected, but they have it fairly under control.
His costs have been in the millions. His surgery alone was $865,000. He was on a ventilator until this summer, and needs constant care through the nursing home including showers, shaving, haircuts, clothing, because they still dress him every day and put him in his wheelchair that we had made for him. He receives aid from the state, of course, but the things I mentioned are not included, even the wheelchair. He is also currently being fed through a tube in his stomach.
After the accident, and even though I have legal guardianship of Zach, my ex-wife moved to the Pittsburgh area to take care of Zach and be by his side. She is there almost every day for six to eight hours, making sure he is getting the right treatment. This was made possible through donations from the CrossFit family. Zach received donations as far away as Australia. They really are a family. I had considered moving him back to the Lehigh Valley, but I couldn't find a facility to compare with where he is at, St. Barnabas. As long as he has an advocate, my [ex-wife], I decided to leave him there. I go every other weekend to Pittsburgh, sometimes every weekend.
Q: What do you want readers to know most about Zach?
A: I want people to know how much Zach had been admired. He became president of his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and doubled the membership of his frat under his helm. This was told to me by the current president, who rode across country on a bike and by himself, in honor of Zach. According to Alex the current president, Zach has been an inspiration to him, although never meeting (Zach was president in 2010).
[Zach] started Pitt CrossFit, and was very charismatic, according to his teachers and associates. When Anne Hathaway did the Batman movie in Pittsburgh, her security force donated their first day's salary to Zach. Eddy Ifft, a comedian on Comedy Central [and a Pittsburgh native], did a show "Laughs for Zach" on the waterfront in Pittsburgh. He bartended at the wedding of the Pittsburgh Steelers' current quarterback [Ben Roethlisberger]. He met the Steelers at McFadden's, where he was the bar manager at night.
I want people to know how well-liked and respected Zach was, and all the people he touched at the age of 23. I want a special thanks to go out to Mike Pietragallo, owner of CrossFit Pittsburgh, who loved Zach like a son, and took the bull by the horns and orchestrated most of the funding and still carries Zach's picture on their Web page. He knew we were unable to function. (There is a You Tube video about Zach ...www.youtube.com).
I would also like to mention that if people can't come to Zumba for Zach, and would like to donate, they can go to "Give Forward" at www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/wky2/zach-miller-s.
To read more about Zach's story and the fundraiser on Saturday:
'Zumba for Zach' to Raise Money for Emmaus Grad Hurt in Car Crash