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Around Pleasanton: After decades of military and civic service, Chris Miller is stepping away

 

Chris Miller, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army who served in Vietnam and for decades boosted veterans’ awareness programs in Pleasanton – even backing Mayor Jerry Thorne’s last election – a tough start as he stepped back to devote full-time to his ailing wife.

For a break during Marty’s long and difficult battle with kidney cancer, they made their annual trip to a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas, returning last Monday (Nov. 4) at San Francisco International Airport. The arrival back home didn’t go well.

As they got off the second people- mover in the international terminal, Chris suddenly collapsed. Marty, close behind, knew immediately that this was just not tripping, but something terribly wrong. People called for help.

Miller, recovered and, standing strong, told us about his tumble at our weekly luncheon of the Rotary Club of Pleasanton last Thursday. He also shared his story with by Pat Frizzell, chairwoman of Pleasanton Military Families, who sat with him in support at the luncheon.

Chris said he was stretched out at the end of the people-mover, in and out of consciousness, as the first paramedic arrived on a bicycle, an airport-instituted emergency response tactic to maneuver through the crowds. The medic found Chris mainly unresponsive, very pale and with a very slow pulse, and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.

Other paramedics arrived, got Chris on a monitor, and quickly saw that he had a heart blockage, inserting an IV with medication to speed up his heart. An ambulance arrived and took him to Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in San Mateo while Marty was expedited thru customs and driven to the hospital.

Doctors found Chris needed a pacemaker, which was inserted the next day, and he and Marty were able to come home.

At Rotary two days later, we found him looking and feeling well and even able to walk to the microphone to tell us his story. He said his chest is hurting a bit and he needs to wear a sling to remind him not to lift with the left arm until the pacemaker battery pack settles in place and he heals.

Fortuitously, Chris had decided only two weeks earlier in a letter to Frizzell that he was stepping down from his leadership role at the military support organization he founded in 1991.

At the same time, he relinquished his responsibilities for the Yellow Streamer program on Main Street that he started 16 years ago, working with Pleasanton crews to post American flags and yellow streamers on light poles, with each streamer listing the name, rank and branch of service of someone in the military serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other the war zones.

Recently, he also resigned his longtime membership in the Rotary Club of Pleasanton, although the club created a special honorary membership so that he could continue participating, as he did last Thursday.

He’ll now devote full-time care to Marty.

In December 2008, she was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had surgery to remove the affected kidney four months later. Last year, she developed cancer in her other kidney.

“Immediately our life together changed,” Chris said. “(Marty) stated that she would be a fighter and I told her that I would be her rock. That is how we have proceeded (last year) through the long summer, fall and winter, this summer and to the present.”

Marty elected to use the UCSF medical system to treat and cure her.

“It has not been easy for her, nor for me, either,” he added. “She had meningitis, pneumonia and many more roadblocks along the way. She has had wonderful oncologists, along with many specialists and treatments during this time.”

Still, the trips to UCSF have been difficult, both for Chris when he went to visit Marty when she was at UCSF, and for the many back-and-forth trips they both made as she underwent out-patient treatments.

“With heavy traffic, accidents, bridge delays and more, I’ve found there’s no longer the joy in driving to San Francisco anymore,” he said.

After her treatment break this past week – and now the emergency care for Chris -- they will travel to M.D. Anderson Medical Center for a second opinion on Marty's cancer treatment. This Houston hospital is ranked as a top cancer diagnosis and treatment facility.

Although now devoted to Marty’s care, and still being the veteran booster he is, Miller has already arranged for Connie Teshara, a retired administrative executive at Ohlone College, to take over the downtown Yellow Streamer program. He also intends to provide whatever support he can to the Pleasanton Military Families Support Group that he started.

A veteran of the early days of the Vietnam War, he later flew commercial helicopters out of San Francisco for 11 years. He regularly saw returning Vietnam War veterans as they came through SFO and also back to the Bay Area and saw them treated "awfully and with disrespect" by their fellow American citizens.

Through PMF and other veterans’ organizations, he wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again, including still saluting local troops with cheering, flag-waving crowds at homecomings Vietnam veterans never saw.

Our thanks to you Chris for your years of service, and our best to Marty in her time of need.

Editor's note: Jeb Bing is editor emeritus for the Pleasanton Weekly. His "Around Pleasanton" columns typically run on the second and fourth Fridays of every month.

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