ALBION, Mich. (AP) — Thirteen, 500, 2 — those are among the numbers that explain a pivotal event in Stephanie Miller’s life and her new home at 705 Division St.
The immeasurable part of the story is the crash that took Miller from beginning her dream career as a physician’s assistant to a passenger in an emergency helicopter en route to the hospital.
Thirteen years ago
Miller was driving home from Fourth of July fireworks in 2001 with her husband in the passenger seat.
At an intersection, a drunken driver smashed into the couple’s car, and left Miller with severe physical and medical disabilities. Miller doesn’t remember any of it, Jackson Citizen Patriot (http://bit.ly/1uwQs0m ) reported.
“The last we checked, her memory was pretty much wiped from the accident — from there back two years,” said her father, Steve Miller.
After she woke from a four-week coma, Miller went through rehabilitation, including speech and physical therapy. It took her about a year to get home.
Doctors said Miller would never talk, walk or drive again. Miller, now 39, defied predictions and relearned those skills.
She remembers telling herself after surviving the accident, “Stephanie, you have nothing to complain about.”
But she had much to be proud of as an athlete and star pupil in high school, a wife, and a graduate of Grand Valley State University with a master’s degree.
“To see that all taken from her was pretty tough,” Steve Miller said. “And I resented it because there were times we could’ve talked, but she was studying.”
But he respected that about his daughter and knew she wanted to make a good life for herself. In reaching out to the Battle Creek Area Habitat for Humanity, Miller is still pursuing that ideal.
The house Miller lived in after the accident was ground level, yet unsuitable for her. Its narrow hallways forced her to park her wheelchair and walk to the tiny bathroom. The kitchen and other rooms were similarly hard to navigate and posed other challenges.
After a recommendation from a friend and a consultation with Brenda Jones, program coordinator for the area’s Habitat for Humanity, Miller moved toward a new home.
500 hours of sweat equity
In November 2013, an Albion College professor donated Miller’s future house to Habitat for Humanity. Volunteers started working on the house in the winter, and then ramped up efforts early this spring.
All facets and gadgets in the house are designed to suit Miller’s physical needs. They comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Habitat for Humanity’s standards, though it took considerable effort to meld both sets of requirements.
“When we rehab a house, we take it completely down to the wall studs and start all over,” said Kara Werner, executive director for the Battle Creek Area Habitat for Humanity. “So everything is brand new.”
Among the adjustments made to Miller’s house are widened hallways, a walk-in shower, railings, ramps, and specialized countertops and appliances.
They’re trying to make the house work for Miller, Jones said, instead of the reverse.
However, home recipients are required to do community service. That includes assisting with construction of their house, and working at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
“The first day that she started her sweat equity, she was just a shaking mess,” Jones said.
Miller was worried ReStore customers wouldn’t understand her, but she quickly won them over.
Once construction began, Miller got involved and hasn’t strayed away from many projects.
She put up drywall, worked with plaster and painted.
“Most of the time, they don’t ask me, I say ‘what can I do to help?‘” Miller said.
Two family partners
To help Miller through the process of becoming a homeowner, Barbara Rosene and Carol Marshall serve as her family partners.
Proud of her resilience, Marshall and Rosene look at Miller like she is family.
“I don’t know how you couldn’t like to be around someone who is so positive, in spite of all she’s been through,” Marshall said.
Miller doesn’t reveal many of her reservations — if she has any at all.
“After my accident, I believe I’m lucky I am still here,” she said.
Jones hopes to complete Miller’s home by the end of August, with a dedication ceremony in early September.
Once the construction scraps and paint splatters are cleaned up, it won’t be long before Miller can move in with her bull mastiff, Brutus. And Miller will be one step farther from letting the crash 13 years ago define her.
Information from: Jackson Citizen Patriot, http://www.mlive.com/jackson