North Hagerstown High athlete beats the odds and overcomes cancer
Aaron Miller is a North Hagerstown High School student athlete recovering from leukemia. He cites his varsity letter and a wristband made with initials and jersey number among his cherished possessions. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / March 6, 2013)
“The next day, he came back and still wasn’t feeling well,” Stains said. “He said it was bronchitis, but he didn’t look like the same Aaron. I could see it in his eyes. We gave him Friday off. I told him he should see a doctor because it seemed like more than bronchitis.
“On Saturday, he didn’t show up for our scrimmage.”
That was Aug. 18.
Rather than attend the scrimmage, Miller made a second trip to the ER for another opinion.
A test indicated his white blood count was elevated. Normally, the count should be around 14,000, but Miller’s stood at 81,000 and his spleen was enlarged.
“Because of the heat acclimatization, we weren’t allowed to start hitting yet,” Miller said. “It was a good thing because I could have lacerated my spleen. Heat acclimatization saved my life.”
The local doctors wanted Miller to go to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for a closer look. Miller’s mother, Robin, planned to drive there, but doctors demanded he be taken by ambulance. In the car, the slightest bump could have ruptured his spleen.
“He was in bad shape when he showed up,” said Dr. Patrick Brown, a pediatric leukemia expert at Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. “He had a form of leukemia that was extremely aggressive and he was in very serious condition.
“He had high levels in his blood. He had trouble breathing and was bleeding into the whites of his eyes. We weren’t sure if he was going to make it.”
Brown said the leukemia was the product of one of Miller’s chromosomes breaking, flipping and refusing itself. That caused a mutation that allowed his blood cells to grow out of control.
Brown said the cancer, which is very rare in children and teenagers, is difficult to cure. Brown said normal white cell count is between 5,000 and 15,000. Miller’s was near 100,000.
Miller was told that he wouldn’t be playing sports and probably wouldn’t be attending school this year.
“The doctors said that it was a good thing I came in because I only had four days to live,” Miller said. “I would have less time if I would have been smaller and not in shape to play football.”
A range of emotions
The reaction was obvious.
“I cried,” Miller said. “My mom, my sister and my aunt were all there and they started crying. I was scared. They wanted to start chemo immediately. My mom wanted to wait a little to see if I would get better, but they said I only had four days. I didn’t even think about it. I wanted to start immediately.”
And there was disbelief.
“I was just shocked,” said his mother, Robin Miller. “We thought we were taking him for a breathing treatment and we would be going home. It was devastating ... I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone.