‘It’s a miracle I’m here’: MetroHealth Medical Center doctor finds new purpose after accident

CLEVELAND - Since he was a young man, Brian Miller has had a dream.

"It was very much, 'I want to be an ER doctor,'" he says, "my focus was on how to become an ER doctor."

Leaving his family's pasta business in Fredricksburg, a small town in Wayne County, he earned his GED, before going on to the University of Akron, and then to medical school at Ohio State.

He was hired to work in the emergency room at MetroHealth Medical Center, and was there one day in May of last year when his life suddenly changed.

"I had a very, very busy shift here in the ER, stayed late to finish up some paperwork, and I was bicycling home only about a mile away," he says.

An avid biker, who was wearing a helmet, Dr. Miller was struck while riding in Tremont, and rushed back to the Metro ER he had just left -- his own life now hanging in the balance.

"When you're taking care of one of your own, it puts a little bit more of a strain on everyone," says Dr. Thomas Collins, the EMS director at Metro.

Senior ER doctors rushed into work to help take some of the workload off of Brian's young colleagues and friends.

"Realistically, I would say, looking at it, that (injury) is not survivable. So I think it's a miracle that I'm here," Brian Miller now says.

His colleagues, his friends, had saved his life. But the crash broke his neck, and left him paralyzed.

"Accepting it is still a daily battle," he says.

And each day, his colleagues are amazed at his strength.

"I didn't see any of the anger, or depression, or reaction that people have when they have these devastating events," says Dr. Charles Emerman, the Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Metro.

Instead, Brian is back at work as part of an EMS fellowship program at Metro.

And he is focusing on how he may become a better doctor because he now can relate, in a new way, to many of his patients.

"So there's a lot of pain with this," he says, "I always thought being paralyzed meant that you can't feel anything, but there's a lot of pain."

It's chronic pain, the type that afflicts many of the patients he now sees as part of Metro's "Critical Decision Unit."

"I can actually sympathize, truly sympathize, with a lot of patients," he says.

Dr. Miller says his faith and his family (he and his wife have a young son) have helped sustain him.

"The God I serve has a plan for me," he says, "so purpose in suffering has been incredibly encouraging to me."

Brian Miller isn't sure exactly what the purpose is, but says, "I hope being an encouragement to people is part of that."

More than an encouragement, his ongoing courage has made him an inspiration -- both to the people he works with, and the people he cares for.