Heather M. Miller | Cleveland Clinic

No one who knew Heather Miller would have been surprised that she chose to donate her body to Cleveland Clinic, or that she donated tissues samples to the University of Florida and established a foundation there, called the Heather Miller GSD Fund, to research a devastating disease.

“Heather was an amazing person, most often thinking about others instead of herself,” says her mom, Kathy Miller.

Although Heather was just 29 years old when she passed away in January of 2015, she wanted her life to make a difference and wished to help others who are battling glycogen storage disease (GSD). That was her primary reason for donating her body; she also wanted to “give something back” for the medical care she received.

“The doctors at the Clinic have always been special to us, providing her with loving care,” says Kathy. “They carry a special place in our hearts forever.”

When Heather was in her early 20s, she was diagnosed with GSD; adult-onset of the disease is rare. After her first pancreas transplant failed, her family got her a red Doberman puppy, whom Heather named Envy. The puppy — her constant companion — and the family dog, a chocolate Labrador retriever named Malley, were like children to Heather. “Heather absolutely loved her dogs,” says Kathy.

Vibrant and bright, Heather had been in school to become a pharmacist. She was also an artist and loved to draw and paint, most often fairies and mermaids.

About two years before she passed away, Heather wrote instructions for what she wanted and did not want at the end of her life. After she was turned down for a third transplant, she and her family remained hopeful, but they knew they were quickly facing their worst fears. Still, Heather’s inner strength, courage and determination proved an inspiration to her family and everyone else she came in contact with.

“She didn’t want people to be horribly sad. She wanted to bring people together,” says Kathy.

One of Heather’s requests was a celebration of her life, which was held in mid-May, when the weather in Northeast Ohio typically begins to warm. Three hundred family members and friends came from all over the country, from Texas to Florida, to pay tribute to Heather. The guests enjoyed music, played volleyball and corn hole, and signed a memory book. Information about the Cleveland Clinic Body Donation Program and the Heather Miller Fund was available for those who were interested.

Says Kathy, “Heather may have only lived 29 years, but she has made more of a difference than just about anyone I've ever met. There is no way to fully express our loss, or relate to you all of her inner and outer beauty in words, but hopefully this will give you a peek into her heart.”