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October 19. 2013 2:09AM

She runs as repayment


Joanna Grossman Miller displays part of a "Thank you" message during a past CHaD Hero Half Marathon. (COURTESY)


Joanna Grossman Miller and her daughter, Nora, 2. (EMILY REILLY)

HANOVER -- Joanna Grossman Miller has been running to support Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon since it started its half marathon and 5-kilometer run, now known as the CHaD Hero Half Marathon and Ripcord 5K, in 2006.

During that time, she's raised nearly $22,000 for CHaD, her way of giving back to the hospital that restored her health as a teen.

The half marathon and 5K - along with a 10K wooded hike, family fun run and festival - take place today on and around the campus of Dartmouth College. Race-day registration starts at 9:30 a.m.

Miller was living in nearby Thetford, Vt., in 1999 - an active 16-year-old who was a member of the track and field, soccer and basketball teams at Thetford Academy - when she began experiencing the symptoms of what turned out to be a neurological disorder.

At first, she shrugged off the symptoms, thinking her fatigue and weakness meant she simply hadn't trained properly.

"Eventually it got to the point where I had a very quick downhill slide," she said. "My parents actually came home from work one day to find me sitting on the front steps because I didn't have the strength to turn the key in the lock, and at that point it was very clear there was something wrong with me.

Admitted to CHaD for a one-week stay under the care of pediatric neurologist Dr. Dick Nordgren, she was diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIDP.

"My immune system mistakes the myelin sheath as a virus, so it strips it off the nerve," she said. "My brain is sending the message, my muscles are still strong and can hear the message, but my nerves can't convey the message."

Treated with intravenous immunoglobulin, Miller immediately got better, she said.

"It was amazing. It truly felt miraculous to me, and being at CHaD was such a wonderful experience because they are specifically there to care for children that are scared and not sure of what's going on," she said. "They are there to treat what is wrong with your body, but they also care for your soul, and all the nurses there are so wonderful and loving to the patients."

After the rapid improvement brought on by her initial treatment, Miller relapsed, and what was hoped to be a one-time treatment instead became an every-five-or-six-weeks ritual that continues to this day.

Nevertheless, she said, she considers herself fortunate to have received treatment in time to provent any permanent neurological damage.

Miller now lives in Stow, Mass., with her husband, Nate, and their 2-year-old daughter, Nora.

She first learned of the CHaD Half Marathon when her mother told her about the new event in 2006.

Miller said she thought, "I am lucky to have my health thanks in large part to the care that I received there, so I should do something with my health to give back."

With help from her sister, Miller trained and ran her first half marathon, starting her fundraising for ChaD.

This marks her second year as a member of the Honor Connor team, formed in memory of Connor Cook, a Thetford Academy student who died while a patient at CHaD after he was struck by lightning in 2012.

Two years ago, just six weeks after daughter's birth, Miller walked the 5K, and she's stuck to that distance.

She said contributions come from many donors in small amounts. It's amazing what a lot of $25 and $50 donations can add up to, she said.

This year, Nora will participate in the Cam's Course Family Fun Run before hopping into a stroller to ride along in front of Mom as Joanna runs the 5K.

It's become quite a family affair, Miller said.

Her father, Dan Grossman of Maple Leaf Photography, donates his time and talent photographing runners along the course. Her sister photographs people coming across the finish line, and her husband photographs the volunteers.

Miller said it's important for her to bring her daughter to the event so that together they can be thankful and celebrate their health.
"We have been incredibly lucky that (Nora) has been healthy, but as my parents found out in 1999, you never know," Miller said. "Having a daughter of my own makes me much more thankful for having a place like CHaD."


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