- Meet Bill Miller -

 
UPDATE 05/03/2012: I recently recorded a 6-minute "Meet Bill Miller" video to help shed some light on life as a high-level quadriplegic and to share some of what can be possible, even with a ventilator.  Here's the direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiVonbXUWcU
 
UPDATE 11/03/2011: I'm in the November 2011 issue of Lake County's HEALTHY LIVING magazine on pages 44-47.  I printed the magazine as a PDF file and extracted the article about me, click HERE for the article only. You can also read the entire magazine online (read the November 2011 Issue HERE) which has an excellent article about Nick Vujicic, who is on the cover, which I also extracted.

UPDATE 09/01/2008: Everything below is still applicable, but I was featured in the Dean's Report for the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business Administration -- click HERE!  Also, checkout my "personal updates" on my homepage -- the 8/22/2008 entry tells about my educational journey and where I'm planning to "go" from here.
 


"Forgive me if I don't shake hands."  -- Val Kilmer in Tombstone.

October 10th, 2002

My name is Bill Miller and I'm a 25-year-old quadriplegic on a ventilator.   My accident was somewhat unbelievable.  It happened August 23rd, 1997, just two days before I was to begin my senior year at the University of Florida.  I tripped in my bedroom and wound up a C1-2 quadriplegic on a vent -- much like actor and real-life Superman, Christopher Reeve.

Ok, so my arms and legs don't cooperate when I tell them to move.  But I still have my heart, my mind, and my soul -- which are the best parts of Bill Miller.  

Below are two articles that appeared in our local newspaper, The Daily Commercial, on March 5th, 2000.  An innocent fetish for movies turned into my first post-accident "job," reviewing movies for the newspaper.  I reviewed sixty-seven movies spanning parts of '98, '99 and 2000, and then decided to move on in pursuit of other endeavors.  The first article is written by Daily Commercial columnist Rick Reed and is titled "Movie Reviewer Keeps Moving One Step at a Time."  The second article, "Movie Man Moving on," is my farewell to the paper and is the first time I let my readers know that I was a quadriplegic.  

The two articles provide some fairly detailed background info and FYI... I hope you enjoy:)...


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"Movie Reviewer Keeps Moving One Step at a Time"

By RICK REED, Daily Commercial Staff Writer

LEESBURG -- March 5th, 2000

The name for Bill Miller's soon-to-be website -- www.lookmomnohands.net -- says a lot about the amazing 23-year-old man.

A quadriplegic, Miller sees life from a wheelchair and has been dependent on a ventilator to breathe for much of the 2 1/2 years.

It has given the outgoing Daily Commercial movie reviewer a perspective different than most folks.

But that's nothing new for Miller.

"I've always been able to put things into perspective," he said.  "It's a lesson I've learned a long time ago.  I think you have to learn to accept your current reality.  This wheelchair is my current reality.

"Every morning my arms and legs are not moving I say, 'Bring in the wheelchair.  I've got places to go and things to do.'

"I focus on what I can do, not on what I can't."

And that list is long.

CAN DO

Creating his Web site is one of those things he can do.  But it's a recently acquired skill.  Before his accident, Miller considered himself "barely a computer novice."  Now he is taking a course over the Internet to learn how to create Web pages.

With his trademark optimism, Miller has already registered the name: lookmomnohands.net.

His computer is Miller's link to the world.  And he is mastering it.

He spends an average of eight hours a day working on his voice-activated computer named Max.  Not only is Miller able to write his movie reviews -- 67 to date for the Daily Commercial -- by talking to "Max," Miller is able to operate the lighting in his room, the television, video recorder and other electronic functions with the help of his computer.

"From PowerPoint to writing macros and various applications in between, I've learned a lot in the past two years," Miller wrote.

Now he's ready to tackle designing Web pages -- without the use of his hands.

But one day Miller expects his hands and the rest of his body to work.

His goal is that his recovery will be so complete by the time he's 30 that he'll need photographs to prove he ever had an accident.

THE ACCIDENT

It happened in his apartment on Aug.23, 1997 -- two days before he was to begin his senior year at the University of Florida.

He tripped in his room that evening and broke vertebrae C5-6 in his back in the fall.

It left him like actor Christopher Reeve, without the use of his arms and legs and dependent on a ventilator to breathe.

Before his accident, Miller had heard Reeve talk of walking again but he didn't think much about it.  After his fall, Reeve's words have become a source of inspiration for him.

"I took great comfort in it after the accident," he said.  "My goal is that when I'm 30 I'll need pictures to prove that I was injured."

While Reeve's words have inspired Miller, the Leesburg man is attempting to carry the baton of hope to others.  He's done some public speaking and hopes to become known nationally as a motivational speaker.

"I fancy myself the Christopher Reeve of Florida," Miller said.  "I'd like to carry the torch and help lead the way to spinal cord victory."

After Marishia Scott's spinal cord was severed several months ago in a Mount Dora bank robbery, Miller was asked to speak at Scott's church so the members could understand how her life would be affected.

He's also become a regular speaker at Anthony House, a shelter for the homeless.  His first speaking appearance was as a panel member for the Florida Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program in October of 1998.

CLIMBING MOUNT KILIMANJARO

Miller even has a business card.  It reads: "Climbing Pike's Peak is impressive, but conquering Kilimanjaro is inspirational."

"The thought dawned on me one morning while I was lying in bed," Miller said.  "I felt like I was facing Mount Kilimanjaro.  Being the highest-level quadriplegic, I equated my situation with Mount Kilimanjaro," he said.

"A lot of people can climb Pike's Peak, but it takes special circumstances to go after Kilimanjaro," he said.

"Before my accident even my most noble ambition, I think, would have only allowed me to climb Pike's Peak," he said.  "With the special circumstances I've been fortunate to be presented with, I have an opportunity to achieve a greater success."

Miller has both long -- and short-term goals.  And he also has a motto.

"I want to live it one day and one step at a time," he said.  "I want to keep my goals in sight and take small steps toward them every day."

Miller wants to get his college degree.  That's why he's written his last movie critique, at least for now.  He is looking for a college program that will allow him to take courses from his computer room.  And he's looking for a program without textbooks.

A year shy of his a teaching degree, Miller will probably become a business major -- which fits in line with another goal.

"I want to be a self-sufficient business person," he said.  "I also want to be a nationwide motivational speaker.  I have lots of goals."

One is something most people take for granted -- breathing.

After the accident, Miller was told he would never breath on his own again.  Now he is able to breathe off the ventilator for up to three hours.  But his first small step, about six months after the accident, was for only 1 minute and 9 seconds.  A week later he doubled his time to 2 minutes and 26 seconds.

He tenaciously continued increasing his time off the ventilator and achieved a goal of 2 hours on the one-year anniversary of his accident.

"Phase two, getting off the ventilator all day, is very feasible for me," Miller said.  "The hard part is getting myself to breathe when I'm sleeping.  But when I've been doing it all day I think it will happen."

CHALLENGED, NOT CHEATED

Miller wrote: "Life presents challenges and there's no sweeter satisfaction than conquering them."

And he doesn't feel cheated because of his circumstances.

"No, I don't feel cheated at all," he said.  "Occasionally I try to picture where I'd have been if this had not happened to me and I can smile at the opportunities I would have had.

"But I can really cherish a lot of the opportunities I have had because of the accident."

Such as writing movie reviews for The Daily Commercial.

"I didn't know I would enjoy it so much," he said.  "And I surprised myself in how well I think I did."

Miller believes he's been blessed in many ways because of the accident.

"I've always tried to look at the positive side, and a lot of positives have come out of my situation -- like strength of family," he said.  "I've been extremely blessed with a strong family.  I didn't know how strong the family was."

The family has rallied around him.

"He's still the same Bill," his mother Joanne Keller said proudly.  "Bill has handled the whole thing so well.  It could have been and is a tragedy.  But he has made this situation more than bearable.  He has brought the whole family together."

Miller lives at home with his father, Jim Miller, coordinator of World Class Schools in Lake County, and his stepmother, Judge Donna Miller.  His brother, Andy, a manager for AMC Movie Theaters, has also moved home to help as a caregiver for his brother.

Since Miller requires an attendant 24 hours a day, a nurse is with him 12 hours, from about 2 a.m. until about 2 p.m., six days a week.  Miller, a self-proclaimed night owl, usually sleeps from 3 a.m. until about 11 a.m.

Miller said the nurses have become like a part of the family.

His mother arrives before the nurse leaves at 2 p.m. and she stays until someone, usually Donna Miller, gets home around 6 p.m.

Miller counts that among his many blessings.

"Where else could you find a current wife and an ex-wife coexisting in the same atmosphere," he said.

That could be just one more amazing testimony about an amazing young man who has been able to look at what many consider obstacles as opportunities.

"You can get better or you can get bitter," Miller said a-matter-of-factly.  "Better is a whole lot more fun."

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"Movie Man Moving On"

With Gratitude to Jim Perry and The Daily Commercial

March 5th, 2000 

- By Bill Miller -

Dear Readers, I'm writing this as a thank you to Jim Perry, the Publisher of The Daily Commercial.  Jim Perry took a chance on me.  He hired a "movie reviewer" who had no experience, no formal training, no particular qualifications whatsoever -- sight unseen!

How did this happen?  Let's roll the clocks back to the Fall of '97.  I was lying in a hospital bed at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, and my Stepmom was thinking up potential ways for me to keep my mind active when I came home.  "Ooh, I know," she exclaimed.  "Bill could review movies for The Daily Commercial!!!"  It was perfect.  I loved movies.  I had worked at the Lake Square AMC for two years.  We even live close to the theater and my brother is one of the managers.  It was a five star idea -- with two big problems.  

First, I hadn't yet relearned to talk, and second -- I had to get hired!  My determination would soon take care of the first, but still, I'd never written a movie review.  However, when my Stepmom shared her idea with Jim Perry, being the open-minded guy he is, he said "er… uh… sure" even though we'd never met.  I'd never even talked to him on the phone.  He didn't know if I could write.  Heck, I was a math major -- not an English man! 

For your blind faith and for the opportunity, Jim Perry, I thank you.  

It all started with "The Truman Show" in July of 1998, and I've been "rolling" ever since.

My trip to the movies is a little different than yours.  I need a driver.  Preferably one who is young and strong.  My drivers have a checklist of things they need to do before we can leave.  

Yes, they need to check the mirror positions, adjust the driver's seat, and buckle-up before we drive off.  But before that comes the checklist, on which they need to: get the in-exsufflator, make sure we have extra canulas and in-exsufflator extensions, make a cath-kit, grab my sunglasses, cell phone, and a blanket, make sure my water supply is sufficient, and then go open up the van.  

Then they have to take me out of gear, turn my box off, and push me onto the lift.  Then, complete the seatbelt circuit, put one of my gears up, and raise the hydraulic lift.  Then remove the completed seatbelt circuit, release the gear down, push me back into the van and jockey me into position making sure the bolt mechanism locks and the system safety switch is on.  Almost done.  

Strap down my front wheels, do the shoulder seatbelt, put both sides up in gear and turn my box on so I can do a weight shift while we're en route to the theater.  Now, jump out, put the lift up, slam the doors shut, lock the door to the house, run around to the driver's side, get in, and now check the mirrors, adjust the driver's seat, and buckle up.  Is the in-exsufflator in the cart?

You see I'm a spinal cord injured quadriplegic on a ventilator, just like Christopher Reeve.  Those of you who have known that I'm in a wheelchair and my arms and legs don't obey my commands, have you caught some of my "figuratively speaking jokes" that I've laced into some reviews?  For example, the second sentence in "Girl, Interrupted," I wrote, "And as I sit down to write this, I'm still scratching my head…" -- of course I'm sitting down, I'm in a wheelchair!  And, no I'm not ACTUALLY scratching my head, I can't lift either arm!  Like Tom Cruise said in "Top Gun"… "Geez, I crack myself up." 

For those of you who don't know, I am, of course, Bill Miller and I'm a 23-year old quad on a vent.  August 23rd, 1997, two days before I was to begin my senior year at the University of Florida, I tripped in my room and ended up a C1-2, like the aforementioned Super-man.  

But I'm feeling much better now.  

I was told I'd never eat again, but four months after my accident I was eating a friend's wedding cake (Clint and Amanda Patterson, the proud parents of a newly born baby boy, Ridgley Van Patterson).  I was told I'd never breathe on my own, but I'm up to three hours at a time off the ventilator.  Life presents challenges and there is no sweeter satisfaction... THAN CONQUERING THEM.  

It's ironic how many doors my accident has opened, though I literally can't turn the handle.  Of course, I started reviewing movies for The Daily Commercial and my humble portfolio now proudly displays sixty-seven reviews -- which brings me to the title of this article.  

Alas, Dear Readers, it is time for this movie man to move on.

Writing movie reviews has been great fun and has given each week a purpose and shape.  But now my weeks will take form around four new areas of focus.  Actually, I have nine major projects I want to attack but the primary four, in no particular order, are: school, breathing, web-page design, and motivational speaking.

My accident left me one year shy of a BS in math, however, my return to the classroom will be for business.  Oops, did I say classroom?  I meant computer room, where I am now, dictating this to my computer, Max.  Ideally, I'd like a hands and travel-free way to attend college, right over the Internet.  Many schools already have "distance learning" programs in place, but I have yet to see one that is totally hands-free, including textbooks -- especially textbooks.  When the right situation presents itself, I'll be ready. But the time is now for me to start an intensive search for the right situation.

Also on my agenda is breathing.  What you have been doing everyday, without effort or thought while eating, drinking, talking, and sleeping -- I have been doing for short periods of silent concentration.  But that was just phase one -- one down and two to go -- for ventilator independence.  

I didn't call it "phase one" when I broke-through and breathed on my own for one minute and nine seconds, about six months after my accident.  Nor was it phase one a week later, when I doubled my time to two minutes and twenty-six seconds without the vent.  Nor a week later when again I doubled my time to five minutes and two seconds.  My double-time success continued with ten minutes and thirty-one seconds.  Then fourteen minutes and thirty-four seconds.  Then twenty forty-three.  This continued until I set and achieved my record goal of two hours by the one-year anniversary of my accident.

My thinking, at the time, was that I had now proven that I could breathe on my own for two hours, so let's go to a ventilator weaning facility somewhere and work to get off the vent -- permanently.  But there was (and is) no weaning center in all of Florida and I couldn't go back to Shepherd because our maladministered insurance still owed them forty thousand dollars.  Since I had a safety net of being able to breathe for two hours, the sense of urgency was gone.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I have "rested on my laurels" a bit too long -- now is no longer the time to take it easy. 

Why, in what I now call phase one, were my periods of breathing silent?  Because when I started breathing, it was done simply by taking the vent off and me trying to lift my chest and shoulders (using my neck muscles, which I can still control) to take in air.  The air was going in and out through my artificial trachea -- and never passing my vocal chords.  Without air passing my vocal chords, every breath and every minute of every record was silent.  With times as long as two and three hours, it wasn't very productive or practical for me to be without my one tool, my voice, for such a length of time.  Fret no more.  I now have an "offline" speaking valve.

I have just recently discovered and acquired a little piece of brilliantly engineered plastic that will propel me into phase two.  Phase two is the process of getting to the point where I'm vent-free during the day, and only vent dependent at night.  This offline speaking valve, that I wear when I'm off the vent, only allows air to flow one way.  It lets the air flow in freely as I inhale through my trach, and then seals off and forces the exhale out my mouth and nose -- and past my vocal chords.  I can breathe, talk, and chew gum -- and be productive -- all at the same time.  Phase two has begun.  Phase three will be getting vent-free for all of the night, for good, and forever.

May I assure you that my ambition and determination is not limited to breathing -- nor walking.  It's my goal to need pictures to prove that I was ever paralyzed.  I have read many promising articles pioneering new and unprecedented breakthroughs in spinal cord research.  I believe that a medley of these solutions will empower my body with gleeful motion, perhaps by the time I'm thirty.  But don't think I'm just going to stare at a calendar and wait for that glorious day to come.  I've got a lot of life to live and I'M GOING TO LIVE IT -- one day and one step at a time.  Besides, I love a challenge -- and I believe.  

The last two of my current primary objectives are web-page design and motivational speaking.  I spend an average of eight hours every day, working with my faithful voice-operated computer named Max.  Max enables me to operate all facets of computer function and in return I teach him to quote movies.  For example, I have taught Max to respond to the question: "Max, what do you think of my movie review?" by quoting Steve Martin in "The Jerk" saying: "It's perfect!  I won't have to change this at all!"  He loves me.

I was barely a computer novice before my accident, but from PowerPoint to writing macros and various applications in between, I've learned a lot in the past two years.  Now I want to try my hand, er voice, at designing webpages, beginning with my soon-to-be site "www.lookmomnohands.net."

I'm also starting to do some public speaking.  Hopefully it's motivational.  I've landed a steady guest-speaker gig at Anthony House, a shelter and self-help program for Central Florida homeless people and families.  It's amazing what a positive attitude and some confidence can do.  My business card reads: "Climbing Pike's Peak is impressive, but conquering Kilimanjaro is inspirational."  My motto, take each challenge "one step... at a time."

And so it is time for me to step in another direction.  I'm still going to watch movies -- no matter how busy one's schedule gets there's always time for a two-hour sanity saving escape from reality.  If a particular film tickles my funny-bone or strikes my fancy, maybe Jim Perry will let me "pinch hit" with a review or two.

Can I get an "er… uh… sure" on that, Mr. Perry?  I thank you and your wonderful staff at The Daily Commercial for all that you've done for me and all that you continue to do for Lake and Sumter Counties.  

My movie reviews started with "The Truman Show" and with Jim Carrey's line that ended that movie, I too, will say… "Good morning -- and in case I don't see you -- good afternoon, good evening, and good night!" 
 

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- BILL -
 

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