Martin Miller of Wellington is a bona fide hero. Sure, one has to be a sort of hero to teach middle schoolers, but Miller is the real deal. How else to describe the kind of person who sees a plea for help from a dying neighbor he doesn’t know, drops everything to spend an uncomfortable day in Miami getting tested, and then freely undergoes major surgery to give one of his two working kidneys to a complete stranger.
Miller has a calling. He has heard it loud and clear since the time he saw an announcement in church, asking for anyone under 5’4” to donate a section of liver to a dying child. “The hairs on my arms stood up. I felt compelled to act,” he recalled.
Miller may be 5’3”, but he runs triathlons, teaches physical education and there isn’t an ounce of fat on his 140-pound frame. Miller went through the testing back then but wasn’t a suitable donor for the child who needed liver tissue.
Years later, the same thing happened. He heard a plea for a bone marrow donor, responded, but it didn’t work out. However, the third time’s the charm.
When he saw the pleas of a fellow teacher and retired New York City police officer in the Wellington Florida Speaks Facebook group, Miller knew he had to step up. “God made us with interchangeable parts,” Miller said. “He placed it in my heart that there is nothing to worry about. Fear won’t deny me the ability to help another human being.”
Possibly the world’s most understanding wife, Kelly Miller supported her husband’s decision.
“He has always been my hero, but when I saw the plea from Scott Lacobs. I knew this was what Marty would want to do,” she said. “We prayed about it and said that if he was a match, then he was ready to go.”
More than 100,000 American men, women and children need help so badly that they appear on the national transplant waiting list for a kidney. It’s a daunting place to be. Only about 17,000 receive them each year. Many sick people worsen or die before their number comes up, unless they are fortunate enough to find a direct donor, like Miller.
Lacobs, a lieutenant with the NYPD, retired to Wellington several years ago and started teaching criminal justice at Pahokee High School. His kidneys crashed during a particularly stressful stretch and eventually degraded to a point where it was either a transplant or death.
“Do you know how hard it is to beg for your life? Do you know what it feels like to drive around the neighborhood in a car that advertises that I need a kidney transplant, or posting on Facebook how I am going to die unless someone rescues me from the bottom of the waiting list?” he asked.
When Miller read in social media about a fellow Wellingtonian and teacher needing a kidney, he decided to answer the call.
“I spent 10 hours at the University of Miami being prodded, poked and tested. They took 23 vials of blood and sent me home for a week with a blood pressure and heart monitor,” he said. “I guess I passed the test.”
Miller, in fact, was a perfect match.
“When he offered to give me his kidney, I was blown away with gratitude. This guy literally saved my life,” Lacobs said.
The two met for coffee and quickly bonded. There were more coffees and family gatherings. Both families enjoyed a barbecue pool party the Sunday before the transplant, which took place earlier this month.
The two became celebrities on the local social media page site run by Bob Markey II.
“We’ve done a great deal of community good in Wellington Florida Speaks and its sister groups — from assisting before and after storms to promoting local events — but helping to save a man’s life is, by far, our greatest achievement,” he said. “It is wonderful to have played a tiny part in bringing these guys together, and my prayers and best wishes are with them both for a full and quick recovery.”
On June 5, Miller saved Lacobs’ life. The transplant was a success. Reached at home a week after the transplant, Miller was already getting back to his normal, athletic self. “I am already out walking more than a mile a day, taking frequent short walks on doctors’ orders,” he said.
Would he do it all over again?
“It’s funny. I would do it all over again. Sure, there has been some discomfort, but then I will get a text from Scott and I see the bigger picture,” Miller said. “He’s going to make it.”
National Kidney Foundation of Florida CEO Savanna Lanza praised Miller and hopes others follow in his lead and support organ donation.
“Martin Miller is a wonderful human being,” Lanza said. “I wish more people follow his example and save lives. Organ donation is one of the most loving and unselfish acts that a human being can perform.”
For more information about how you can save lives, visit www.donatelifeflorida.org.