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Miller flourishes on court despite disorder

Woodgrove High School senior Kylee Miller has not allowed the effects of a dysautonomic disorder called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome stop her from playing the sport she is most passionate about.—Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
Kylee Miller

-School: Woodgrove
-Class: Senior
-Sport: Basketball
-Hometown: Round Hill
-Disease: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome
-Treatment: Keep moving

Toughness is a concept that comes up often in sports. To endure hardship, battle through adversity and persevere when quitting would be easy, that's tough.

Kylee Miller is tough. A reliable post player for Woodgrove High School with a decent outside shot, she's not timid about using her 5-foot-9 frame to grab rebounds, take charges or get paint points.

Her toughness is apparent not in what she does on the court, but in that she's on the court at all.

Every day, the Wolverine senior fights the effects of a dysautonomic disorder called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS. The diagnosis came the year before Miller entered high school, after she endured a virus similar to mononucleosis.

It hasn't stopped her.

Basketball has been Miller's game since first grade. The Round Hill native began playing on travel teams in the fourth grade, and has made the circuit of local Amateur Athletic Union clubs, from the Freedom to the Triple Threat. She spent four years playing varsity hoops, assisting the five-year-old Purcellville school through its formative seasons of girls' basketball.

All the while, as Miller played well, she wasn't feeling well.

POTS is a form of dysautonomia in which the nervous system cannot effectively carry messages to the organs, particularly after standing up from a sitting or lying position. The result is dizziness, mental fogginess, accelerated heart rate, reduced blood pressure, circulatory issues, extreme fatigue and slow recovery from concussions.

"I was taking naps all the time, like three-hour naps every day after school, which is not like me at all," recalled Miller about the symptoms leading to the diagnosis. "I was very dizzy and light-headed. I had trouble focusing and I had really bad chest pains."

Miller has suffered two concussions in the years since her diagnosis, each incident causing a prolonged absence. A concussion near the end of her freshman year kept her bed-ridden for six weeks. Another occurred prior to her senior year, with the effects felt for a while afterward.

Both times, she was concussed while absorbing an offensive foul – playing tough defense.

"I'm pretty aggressive, I'd say," Miller said. "Obviously, I'm not afraid to take a charge."

To this day, getting up from the bench to go into the game makes her light-headed.

"I'll be at the table waiting to go in, and it's hard to focus on the game," she said. "Once I start running, I'm fine."

After the diagnosis, Miller began a regimen of daily five medicines. By junior year, she started to ween herself off the medication in favor of another way to feel better.

The best treatment, it turns out, is to shake it off. Literally.

"I discovered that when I would work out, I'd feel better," Miller said. "The days I didn't work out, I'd feel awful. But when I did, the blood would flow better and I'd feel better."

Miller has a few friends who also have POTS, and they commiserate with each other. She wants the public to know that a person stricken by POTS is in fact sick, despite appearances.

"They call POTS the invisible disease. I don't look like I'm sick. But I feel sick," she said. "Some people don't understand that."

Commonly, POTS dissipates with time, usually by the close of the teenage years. Miller is still waiting and hoping to be rid of the affliction.

"My doctor said I was supposed to grow out of it, but I haven't yet," she said with a hint of disappointment. "It should go away, but apparently it comes back when you have a kid or get another big sickness."

Miller will graduate from Woodgrove with a grade-point average near 3.3, moving on to Liberty University to study nursing and play some intramural hoops. Her tenure in a Wolverine uniform ended Feb. 13 with a loss in the Conference 21 tournament quarterfinals.

Miller said her senior season was spent with "11 sisters," as the Wolverines girls' hoops squad is united by a collective knowledge of their sport.

"This year, everyone's really basketball smart," she said. "We have really good court presence."

If those sound like the words of a future coach, that's because they most likely are. Miller wants to coach at the youth level, teaching the basics and the love of basketball to kids just learning team play.

She'll definitely teach them how to be tough, too.


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