Burn victim Tom Miller holds one of his NASCAR treasures during a recent Christmas celebration.
With a kind heart, a warm smile and a compassionate spirit, Tom Miller has always been willing to lend a helping hand to others in their time of need. On Sept. 8, around 10:13 a.m., Miller was inside of his home at 9958 N. C.R. 200 E. when it was completely destroyed by an explosion of unknown origin. He's been a vital part of both the Harmony area and the Clay Community School Corporation, and now they are rushing to aid of their friend.
Friday is Tom Miller Day in Clay Community Schools.
Donations on behalf of Miller will be collected at all the schools, the Administration Office located in Knightsville and the Transportation Office at 212 N. Colfax St., in Brazil. All funds collected will be deposited directly to Miller's bank account to help cover expenses during his lengthy recovery.
"He's such a nice man," neighbor Geneva King said. "It's horrible that this happened to him, of all people, it's just horrible."
Trapped in the crawl space area of the house until rescued, Miller received third-degree burns on the upper part of his torso. He was flown by AirEvac to Wishard Hospital for treatment, where doctors list his condition as stable.
He is expected to make a full recovery, but will remain under heavy sedation until late Saturday or Sunday because of his injuries.
"After being postponed last Sunday and Monday, doctors performed surgery Tuesday afternoon to debris his wounds," said Maureen Miller, Tom's daughter.
The surgery was necessary to prepare the wounds for skin grafts, she explained. "Another surgery is scheduled for Friday, but that will depend on whether his fever stays down."
The family was told that the first 72 hours were the toughest for burn victims.
Tom's age, 68, is a concern for the doctors treating the third-degree burns on his arms, hands, back and down the right side of his body. His face was also burned, but doctors have told the family that it is possible he will not need skin grafts because the facial area heals quickly.
The family is talking with doctors about moving Miller to the Cincinnati Burn Center so he can be close to family during his recovery, but that will be determined by his health and whether or not they have space and are able to treat his injuries.
It could take months before he's able to return home.
"He always says "A kind word never goes unheard, but too often goes unsaid," a slogan he is known to practice as well as distribute on letters and other in other ways, neighbor Karen Swickard told The Brazil Times Tuesday. "We just love him so much. He has a magnetic personality that attracts adults and children to him. We're all so grateful that he's alive."
Teenagers Lindsey Vencel and Benjamin Courtney made signs and placed them on the trees in Miller's yard.
"We've taken pictures so Tom can see them when he wakes up," Swickard said.
Nightly, people come to the yard or drive by the site where their friend was hurt. A network of daily phone calls from friends and nieghbors to Miller's family take place to find out any new detail about his recovery. It's their way to show the support and love felt in the community.
"We can't even begin to thank everyone. From all the rescue people that saved our dad's life, to every single person who has showed even the smallest consideration and concern, our entire family appreciates every single one of them so much," Maureen said.
The Clay Community Schools' sponsorship of Tom Miller Day has touched the heart of the family. They are grateful, but they also wonder about the other victims of the explosion. As the Miller family tries to keep the community up to date about Tom's condition, they are trying to find out what's happening to the Dean family as well so that they can answer their father's first questions when he wakes.
"He's always helping others," Maureen said. "Dad's a fighter, he will pull through this."
Tom Miller is also known to everyone as a storyteller.
"He has always had a story to tell people, and now he's got a new one," she said.
It's a story of epic tragedy and miracles, a story of friendship and hope that pulled a community together.
"This is his ultimate story," Maureen said. "It's the one he will tell everyone until the day he dies."