The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Features

January 16, 2013

Heather Miller story, famous tombstones in Pa. new on bookshelves

Heather Miller’s 16-month battle against a rare form of cancer caught the hearts of many in the region, and her story reached as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.

But Heather, who was a fifth-grader at Chestnut Ridge Middle School when she contracted the fatal disease, continues to inspire and challenge others through difficult times in a recently released book titled “Heaven Sent, The Heather Miller Story.”

Available in stores across the region, the 207-page softbound book captures the story in a single cover photo of a little girl in pigtails wearing a smile nearly as wide as the page and decked out in a Steelers’ shirt with the No. 43.

Adding to the picture story, the photo captures Heather lying in a hospital bed with Steelers famous strong safety Troy Polamalu leaning over the bed rail and smiling.

On Oct. 1, 2008, when she was 10, Heather was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer commonly found in children. She died Jan. 29, 2010, in a death described as “Heather earning her wings.”

She was the youngest daughter of Meach and Wendy Miller of Osterburg, Bedford County.

She was the sister of Hannah Miller, who is now 15 and a sophomore at Chestnut Ridge High School.

The book’s author is Scott Brown, a reporter with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who, for several years, covered the Steelers and now covers Penn State football. But the person telling the story is Wendy Miller, Heather’s mother who pulls no punches regarding the 16-month ordeal and death of her youngest daughter.

“She was incredible with me,” Brown said of Miller. “She was an open book.”

Miller grew up as Wendy Wissinger in Richland Township, the daughter of Don Wissinger, a retired Richland High School history and world cultures teacher and coach, and Monica Wissinger, a retired nurse.

She was a standout volleyball  player at Westminster and followed in her dad’s footsteps to become a teacher and coach.

Heather’s cancer came from out of the blue for this upbeat, athletically inclined family.

“Heaven Sent” is Brown’s sixth book, one that began with a newspaper article about Heather and how she touched the hearts of so many of the Steelers’ staff.

“The Miller’s story was well-received, and I thought I could write a book about this,” Brown said. “In 2011, I approached Wendy, and she was receptive.”

The process took a while to get going, but in January 2012, something clicked, the two went at it with a new fervor, and the book was finished in November.

Heather captured the hearts of many Steelers. Many standouts regularly visited her during her extensive stays at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Many of them adopted Heather’s mantra, Fully Rely on God, or F.R.O.G., and her cause became symbolized by the color green, with frog wristbands.

The story, as told by Wendy Miller through Brown, includes dozens of excerpts pulled from the huge volume of CarePages she wrote to followers throughout the 16-month battle and beyond.

The story is heartbreaking, even wrenching at times, but as her mother said, it is a story of hope and inspiration.

Putting the book together turned into less about recalling the highs and lows and more into a yearlong process of reliving the emotions involved in the suffering and loss of her daughter, Miller said.

“I didn’t get the miracle I wanted with Heather, but I got another miracle,” Miller said. “I didn’t lose her. When you lose something, you don’t know where it is.”

“Heaven Sent: The Heather Miller Story” by Wendy Wissinger Miller and Scott Brown is available for $19 at www.milsonpublishing.com.

Proceeds will go to children and their families battling cancer.

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