|Brent Miller demonstrates one of his favorite stretches to do after a run Oct. 25 along a path behind Freedom High School in South Riding. Miller is preparing for the New York City Marathon in November, his 11th overall and first since donating a kidney.—Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny|
-Job: Assistant Athletic Director
-School: Freedom High School
-Marathons run: 10
-Best time: 3:10:40
-Ironmans run: 3 half; 2 full
-Donation date: Jan. 18, 2013
-Recipient: Mary Davis
-Kidney's nickname: Sydney
-Next marathon: New York City, Nov. 3
Freedom High School assistant athletic director and fitness fanatic Brent Miller is gearing up to run the New York City Marathon on the third day in November.
That's not so unusual. More than 45,000 others from around the world can say the same thing.
The difference is, Miller will probably be the only runner at the starting gate who willingly forfeited a major internal organ this calendar year.
In January, Miller laid his extraordinarily healthy body on the operating table and allowed a team of surgeons to cut him open and take out one of his two perfectly functioning kidneys.
They then transplanted his kidney - dubbed "Sydney the Kidney" - into the body of 54-year-old Mary Davis, teaching assistant and mother of four grown children. Davis' family has been close friends with the Millers since Brent and wife Jessica, also a school teacher, settled in Loudoun in 2000, mere days after their marriage.
"Mary and her husband [Mike] were just great friends to us as a newlywed couple, and a great model of married life," Miller said. "They would have us over to dinner and were very supportive of us and generous to our kids."
As the Miller clan grew with daughters Addison, 7, and Makenna, 3, the inter-family bond tightened.
Davis had become aware of her kidney disease in 2000, but good health and habits kept the effects at bay - for a while. In late 2012, with her kidneys physically shrinking from the disease, the need for a replacement became dire.
Nobody in the Davis family was compatible, but after a daylong battery of medical exams, Miller was informed that his was a "perfect match."
"I was thrilled," said Miller of his immediate reaction. "My wife and I attend the community church here at Freedom, and our pastor always talks about serving the Lord by serving others. So I felt like God was giving me this opportunity to help someone else out. Why wouldn't I do it?"
Fewer than 6,000 kidneys, as Miller found out, are given by living donors each year in the United States, a paltry figure compared to the number of patients in need of the vital organ.
"There's a major need for organ donations," Miller said. "I want people to know that you can return to a normal life after donating a kidney."
Today, Miller and Davis are both doing well, calling and texting frequently to check on each other, celebrate another month's anniversary or brag about their favorite NFL teams.
Davis is completely off the energy-sapping dialysis machine to which she had been tied at least six days a week, and a mid-October checkup returned nothing but encouraging results. Miller says his friend is back to living a "normal, everyday life."
In his own recent checkup, Miller received a clean bill of health. His recovery after donating was an amazingly short few weeks, and he was back to his active self.
"To my knowledge, other than needing to watch my hydration, there's nothing restricting me," said Miller, whose kidney began working so quickly for Davis that it was termed a "turbo-kidney."
"The doctors say I'm good to go."
Hitting close to home
Miller's decision was indubitably influenced by the situation his family had gone through just months earlier.
In May 2012, Miller's father Ludwell - a gregarious and well-liked man known to all as Lud - died from the effects of a severe stroke after suffering for several long weeks.
Lud Miller was a hero to his son, instrumental in Brent's entry into athletics. Witnessing a beloved family member fade away in a hospital bed was a fate Miller did not want to see befall the Davises.
"No matter what sport I was playing, my dad was always there cheering for me," Miller said. "If I could keep Mary's kids out of a hospital room watching their mom just waste away, I was more than willing to do that."
When Miller takes off from Staten Island on his 11th marathon, his wife and kids will be in attendance, the Davis family will be watching on TV and he believes his father will be rooting him on from above.
Getting the runs
Before assuming the post of assistant athletic director, Miller was a physical education teacher at Freedom and headed the school's cross-country, swimming and boys' lacrosse programs, some of the more successful athletics teams at the South Riding institution.
He aspires to be a high school athletic director at some point, making his promotion to assistant AD particularly meaningful.
Meantime, his fanatical - he describes himself as "coo-coo" - devotion to physical wellness has continued unabated. Joined by Mary's husband Mike, Miller biked in a 100-mile race in early October, as something of a test for the five-borough, 26.2-mile stage that is the New York City Marathon, the world's biggest.
"I feel really good. My training has been going well," said Miller, who runs long distances daily. "My training partners joke with me that since I lost a little weight from the kidney, I should be even faster now."
Miller's students, he said, were initially "shocked" by the news of his donation, but then "they thought it was a cool thing to do."
Miller is, ultimately, a teacher, and as such he wants pupils and others to learn something from his own experience, one he has called "life-changing."
"I want people to see the value of healthy living, and to see the benefit of helping others," he said. "Pay it forward. Mary has always been that type of person as long as we've known her, and I wanted to emulate that. She's really the trooper in this whole story."
After giving Davis a kidney last Christmas, Miller doesn't know how to follow up that gift this holiday season.
"I don't know about that," he laughed. "But the other day at dinner, my daughter dropped a bean, picked it up and said, 'Here, Daddy, here's a kidney for you.' So even my 3-year-old's pretty funny with it."
Miller expressed gratitude for the support he's received not only from his own family, but from the family he has helped sustain.
"My wife and kids have been my biggest fan club, and Mary and her family have been wonderful," Miller said. "It's been a happy story."
-Photos by Beverly Denny