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)
“I was told I had heart damage,” he said. “Certain levels of the chemo had affected a ventricle of my heart.”
Miller’s heart was pumping blood at less than half capacity. Doctors prescribed a blood pressure medicine to help with the situation, but Miller wasn’t optimistic at the time.
“Everything was good news and then, all of a sudden, I got a text from Aaron that said, ‘I’m not going to be able to play football. My heart is damaged,’” Cunningham said. “There was the great news and then we had to go back to the real world. I texted back to Aaron about how far he had come and he needed to wait and see what the medicine would do.”
The good sign was that the drug had an almost immediate effect and improved Miller’s prognosis greatly. Within hours, the heart’s performance improved.
On Jan. 4, while he still was waiting and hoping, Miller was on the Hubs’ bench for a home game against Boonsboro. He was bald and he looked pale.
Wearing a surgical mask and his “AaronStrong” warmup shirt, Miller sat on the far end of the bench while the Hubs warmed up. Hartman walked over and sat with Miller, talking to him as if he were going into the game.
“I always tried to sit down with Aaron and Teddy (Schoeck, who was injured and missed most of the season) and ask them to break down the game and tell me what they think we should do,” Hartman said. “We wanted to keep them involved with us.
“Because of Aaron and Teddy, we always said that we played for a higher purpose.”
On Jan. 10, a week after being told his heart was not able to perform under the rigors of athletics, Miller bounced back.
“I was given an echocardiogram to see if my heart had improved,” Miller said. “The blood pressure medicine didn’t make my heart work as hard and it allowed it to improve. They told me that it might affect me as I got older.”
Miller was cleared for activity and to return to school. Still, he was curious about what the scar tissue near his heart might do.
“I looked it up on the Internet and saw that it might not bother me as long as I stayed fit and active,” Miller said. “When I found that out, I went right away to the Y and ran 2 miles.”
Returning to school
The first step to getting back on the playing field was returning to school, which Miller did Jan. 16.
As he entered the school that first day, he was greeted by a chalk-drawn welcome on the sidewalk. Written in a rainbow of colors were the messages, “Welcome Back, Aaron,” “We love you, 74” and “We missed you.”
Inside, friends and teachers tried to catch up with him, and signs welcomed him back.
“From my personal standpoint, Aaron’s return was big,” Cunningham said. “You see the younger kids looking at Aaron as a role model because of what he did. In a small way, his return affects every kid in the school, in the county and in the state because it proves to everyone when something happens, you can overcome it.”
Now back in school, Miller worked on things that used to be common for him. His upbeat and courteous personality was uplifting, but sports still were out of reach.
“It was really hard,” Miller said. “It sucks not being able to play. I wanted to jump in there. I wasn’t cleared to play yet, but I kept moving over and trying to sit next to Coach during the Catoctin game (Jan. 30). I kept asking him to give me my uniform so I could get in there.”