For Dickson County resident Greg Miller, Father’s Day had an even greater significance this year.
Just a few months ago, the father of two sons, Liam, 14, and Ben, 9, and husband to Dickson County Middle School health teacher Dana Miller, was facing a life-threatening situation.
“In the last week of February, Greg went to the hospital,” said Dana. “We thought his sugar with diabetes was affecting stuff, but that was OK. Even his MRI and CT scan said he was OK. The next week we went to the hospital. They detected an irregular heartbeat and there was blockage, with 100 percent blockage in one artery and 80 percent in another, with others at 70 percent.”
A LifeFlight helicopter immediately took Greg to Centennial Medical Center in Nashville to undergo a quadruple bypass surgery.
After the surgery the significant medical problems continued for Greg, who has been teaching Adult Basic Education for three years to women at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center in Nashville so they can obtain a GED.
“The day for release the nurse did CPR on Greg for an hour and got him on life support,” said Dana. “They did an MRI that showed there was bleeding on the cerebellum that caused swelling around the brain stem. His heart had stopped. They said he was brain dead. They could do surgery but only a five percent chance of survival. But without surgery survival was zero.”
She said she decided to donate his organs and get him baptized.
“He was left on life support, and I signed the paperwork, but the boys couldn’t see him,” Dana said. “He was cold and so swollen. We went home. The boys talked to a chaplain. We all sobbed and cried.”
After the family had breakfast and talked about funeral arrangements, they received a phone call.
The six-hour surgery had stopped the bleeding.
“I’ve never been so happy to be wrong in my life,” Dana said. “It’s absolutely miraculous. They said he was squeezing hands on demand.
“They said he may have trouble walking but quality of life might be an issue. The next day, he opened his eyes, turned his head, and said his leg was hurting him. They found clots. The next day they removed the clots that were caused by being allergic to the blood thinner.”
That issue led to the amputation of Greg’s lower left leg on March 11; then his right foot was amputated on April 28. During his recovery period Greg also had a stroke and a heart attack.
Dana’s father had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery last year. Greg said that he and his father-in-law are now “zipper (scar) buddies” because of their surgeries.
“We had a lot of support,” said Dana. “We had prayer. People bringing food. Once a month we have a pancake breakfast. My Dad used to do it every Sunday or even more frequently. The only downside right now is that Greg can’t do as much with the Boy Scouts as he wants to. And our boys wish he could.”
Greg grew up in Modesto, Calif. He received his bachelor of science degree from Austin Peay State University. He worked as a park ranger at Dunbar’s Cave in Centerville, then became director of the Dickson County Public Library for three years in 2003. He received a master’s degree in Library & Information Science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
He said he was happy to return to teaching the women at the Johnson Center.
“They even sent me a Father’s Day card,” he said, “They’re very supportive and protective. We’ve built a positive trust rapport and that validates my teaching. It is a blessing and privilege to serve, affirm and encourage them.
“What I enjoy most about teaching is making a difference. I’ve taught high school and middle school. If you can give them one skill or confidence, it’s worth it.”
Greg said he’ll receive checkups from his cardiologist and vascular surgeons, as well as seeing a prosthesis doctor (for his new artificial leg) and a physical therapist weekly for six months.
“The boys are remarkably resilient or unaffected,” said Dana. “They have come so far as has Greg. Everyone has adjusted so well. Every step forward is a step up and a blessing. The kids have learned blessings to strengthen, mature, understand bonding. They each have unique tools and gifts. And they are there for each other.”
And Greg did not lose his passion for education during his medical situations.
“In life, you try to make the best of a bad situation,” he said. “Eventually I’ll get back to walking. And I’ll look back on this time and think: wow. I’m still gonna be a teacher. I will never retire.”