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A Miracle from Tragedy

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

“I’m eternally grateful.”

That’s what Trish’s 85-year old father whispered into my ear after dinner and while we were saying our extended good-byes at his lake cottage.

I breathed in quickly as my heart resonated with my own gratitude. His words confirmed what I already knew: my teenage daughter Laura’s tragic death had resulted in his adult daughter’s second chance at life. Two families, previously without any connection, now forever bonded together in tragedy and hope.

Laura Miller

That tragedy had occurred two years earlier, on February 18th of 2009, when our 14-year old daughter Laura (pictured left) experienced a seizure and was rushed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. Four agonizing days later she was declared brain dead. Our world imploded. My husband Ron and I had just suffered our worst nightmare. Every parent’s worst nightmare.

While we huddled with family in the hospital waiting room, a nurse approached us, offered her condolences, and gently broached the topic of organ donation. With the urging of our twelve-year-old daughter Sara, we made the most meaningful

decision of our lives. 

It’s now been ten years since our tragic loss, and ten years since Trish O’Neill—a special education teacher in upstate New York--received Laura’s liver. We’ve been fortunate not only to have met Trish several times but to have developed an extraordinary bond with her and her family.

Pictured from left to right: Ron, Susan, Sara, and Rachel Miller while visiting Trish and Gary O'Niell at their lake cottage in Pennsylvania in May of 2015.

Pictured from left to right: Ron Miller, Susan Miller, Trish O'Neill, Sara Miller, and Rachel Miller at Washington University in St. Louis in October of 2017.

Getting to know Trish and her family has provided our family with unexpected meaning in Laura’s sudden and seemingly senseless death. And, we now have the privilege of knowing that not only did we save Trish’s life, but we spared her family and community from unnecessary sorrow. We never could have fathomed how our decision, on the worst day of our lives, would profoundly impact those who knew Laura, but us as well. 

Inspired by meeting Trish, I decided to write Permission to Thrive: My Journey from Grief to Growth, a memoir that touches on grief and empathy, resilience and post-traumatic growth, and the miracle of organ donation. In addition to sharing our family’s story at book clubs, volunteer-based organizations, and medical facilities, I work closely with the Wisconsin Donor Network’s organ procurement coordinators to help decrease the stress inherent in their jobs and increase their tenure. I also have the pleasure of sharing our organ donor story with organ donor and recipient families during annual remembrance ceremonies.

Perhaps my deepest pleasure is witnessing our daughter Sara’s passion for spreading the life-saving message of organ donation by leading SODA: Student Organ Donation Advocates. At only 23 years old, she has transformed her pain about losing her older sister into a dynamic and expanding network of high school and college students dedicated to creating more life-saving stories. In the past year, SODA has grown from 2 to 16 chapters nationwide. Ron and I are honored to serve as advisors for SODA National because we believe in SODA’s life-affirming values and altruistic goals, the same values and goals that reflect Laura’s generous and kind spirit and honor her legacy. 

To learn more about Susan Angel Miller and Permission to Thrive: My Journey from Grief to Growth, visit 

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