Monday, September 21, 2020

No ‘woe is me’ in Otto Miller

By Gordon Woodworth, Chronicle News Editor

Otto Miller, the 18-year-old Queensbury High grad paralyzed from the waist down in a fall from a third-story roof in Maryland, is now at the Shepherd Center spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation facility in Atlanta.

And he’s nothing but upbeat — and inspirational to the people around him.

“I’m doing great!” Otto told The Chronicle via Facebook. “The rehab center is very nice. I just got a tour and I really like the gym and the athletic facilities.”

Otto severed his spinal cord in a fall while shoveling snow near the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, where he was about to start playing ice hockey.

But he’s cracking jokes with friends on Facebook, and says he aims to walk again by his 20th birthday in July 2017.

How can he be so upbeat?

“Got all cleaned up and shaved!”  Otto Miller said Sunday on Facebook. He’s now at the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation center in Atlanta. Photo provided
“Got all cleaned up and shaved!” Otto Miller said Sunday on Facebook. He’s now at the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation center in Atlanta. Photo provided

“It’s really the fact of how many people are behind me,” he said.

“How many businesses, some I’ve never even heard of, raising money. People I’ve never known who are sending love and believe in me. It makes me feel so good…

“Well, here’s an example. A pizzeria (Southy’s in South Glens Falls) I’ve never even heard of is doing a fund-raiser. One of my goals is to say thank you in person to as many people as I can when I get back home back. I’ll have to go try the pizza!”

A February 4 benefit at DownTown City Tavern raised $10,000, and a campaign on YouCaring.com had raised $32,115 as of Monday afternoon. More fund-raisers are planned. (See adjacent story.)

Encouraging physical signs

Sunday morning, Otto posted on Facebook: “So ever since the accident there are a few notable things that [have] happened to me. My legs will tingle, but it’s a good feeling. It’s actually nerve pain but I don’t experience it as pain.

“If I try to move my legs, toes, knees, etc., then whatever I’m trying to move will tingle. Along with my spine. My nerves are trying to find each other.

“That’s the problem with this type of injury is the spine heals, but the nerves don’t know where to connect to.

“Some other good news is there was a test done on me where they poke my butt cheek with a Qtip to see what I feel.

“Well, it didn’t feel like a Qtip, it was more of a vibration almost, but I consistently knew when they were poking me and I could feel some sort of sensation. Which is great news considering I shouldn’t be able to feel anything that low. So there is a good chance I think I could regain sensation as low as that on my own.

“The swelling in my injury needs to go down though and given my type of injury, that can take a long time…I can also bend my back despite not being able to feel it.

“Also, I had a revelation. I know now not to pray to God to let me walk again, [but] to pray in thanks that I’m alive with a second chance, with full upper body mobility, no brain injury, all my memory and spirit intact.”

Aims to walk by 20th birthday, 2017

He told The Chronicle he will walk again. “Yes, with the technology we have that’s getting better each year, I believe I will walk again. My goal right now is for my 20th birthday. So July of 2017. Sometimes my legs tingle, but in a good way. If I try to move my legs or toes, they will tingle. It’s the nerves trying to find each other. But I think considering I have that little sensation that I have a chance, certainly, to walk again.”

On Monday this week he started physical and occupational therapy “so I got to work out a bit. Felt good. Just some simple arm exercises with some machines. Also did some stretches, but that was all them since I can’t move my legs haha. I also learned how to get dressed for the first time and it went better than expected actually.”

As for his fall from the roof, “I don’t real-ly remember. It was scary. When I fell I lost consciousness immediately. I believe I hit the roof directly under me. Being on the third level, I had another roof below me and then the ground.”

Are there moments when he thinks, ‘Why me?’

Hockey player Otto Miller, when he played in a ‘Pink in the Rink’ fund-raiser in high school.
Hockey player Otto Miller, when he played in a ‘Pink in the Rink’ fund-raiser in high school.

“Naturally,” Otto replied. “But I got over it quickly. I was so happy to be alive that when they told me I was paralyzed, it didn’t faze me. My mom asked me ‘Are you going to be depressed now that you’re paralyzed?’ and I said ‘Nah, I don’t care.’

“But she took it as more of a negative response and I said ‘Wait, let me rephrase that, I’m fine with it, I’m okay.’”

‘I’m still my old self’

Otto said his parents, Eddie and Sarah, and his younger brother Ian have “all been so strong and the fact that I’m still alive and my old self has kept their spirits high. I didn’t have a brain injury and I’m definitely my old self. And once they knew I was okay, I think they weren’t too affected by it. It’s a change and it’s a big one, but so long as we have our spirit it’s all gonna be okay.”

Otto said his girlfriend Jenny Bee has “been so strong and loving. Never leaving my side when possible. Knowing that I’m still my old self has helped her immensely.”

What’s the immediate plan?

“Right now it’s rehab for five weeks to two months…It was originally two months, but when I got here they had me down for five weeks…I hope to be home ASAP. I have a family vacation planned to Ocean City, Maryland at the end of April. But I certainly can’t rush the rehab.”

Info: www.youcaring.com; search for Otto Miller.

Otto fund-raisers

Fund-raisers for Otto Miller and his family are planned in the coming weeks.

  • Lake George CrossFit, 238 Bay Road, Queensbury, holds a benefit workout for Otto, a Lake George CrossFit member, on Saturday, Feb. 20. Registration 7:30 a.m., workout 8 to 10. $20 voluntary donation for non-members. Info: lakegeorgecrossfit@gmail.com.
  • Southy’s Pizzeria, 75 Saratoga Ave., South Glens Falls is “Raising Dough for Otto” on Thursday, Feb. 25, with 15 percent of all sales will be donated to TeamOtto, said press info. “Pick up, stop in or get it delivered.” Info: 798-8100.
  • The Adirondack Thunder game on Sunday, Feb. 28, at 3 p.m. will feature a 50/50 raffle with the Adirondack Civic Center Coalition donating all proceeds to TeamOtto. Queensbury High School hockey players will be selling raffle tickets. The Thunder are playing the Reading Royals. Also, Ted Nolan and Dave Hanson will be inducted into the Adirondack Hockey Hall of Fame.
  • The Coalition also donated $735, proceeds of the Feb. 6 50/50 raffle, said Thunder spokesman Zach Dooley.
  • The Adirondack Thunder will host an “All In for Otto” Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament in Heritage Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 29. Also featuring meet and greet with Thunder players, 50/50 raffle, cash bar, and several Thunder players matching poker skills with local card sharks. Suggested donation for the poker tournament: $30 advance, $40 at door. Proceeds to TeamOtto. Info: 480-3355.

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