40 From Our 40: Jodi Miller
Many Ronald McDonald House experiences are happy ones. But not every child survives, and their stories bear witness to the most important service the Houses offers: comfort in the face of the unbearable.
Jenna Miller was born in 2002 at South Bend Memorial Hospital with health complications that required her to be transported to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis just one day after her birth. Unable to accompany Jenna, Jodi and husband Adrian spent a night at the Ronald McDonald House in South Bend before departing for Indianapolis the next day.
Frightened but hopeful, they arrived at Riley Children’s only to have their worst fears realized just days later. They slept at the Indianapolis Ronald McDonald House the night Jenna passed away.
“The room gave us a space to sleep, eat breakfast, shower, make phone calls, and begin to process what was happening,” Jodi recalls. “We met with some of the medical staff and got much needed rest before leaving the hospital without our sweet girl.”
That morning, they discovered that a House volunteer had packed away the car seat and other items brought for Jenna’s safe travel home. Tears in her eyes, the volunteer hugged Jodi. “I knew then we would not be alone in this painful journey,” Jodi said.
One year later, the Millers gathered at Riley’s NICU with the medical team that had cared for their daughter. The team described Jenna’s arrival and the time they spent before her parents arrived. This helped Jodi and Adrian fully understand what had happened. “It was like a missing puzzle piece.” Upon leaving, they left a treasured photo of Jenna with the nursing team.
Nearly three years later, baby Eva was born. Breathing challenges led the Millers back to the South Bend NICU and the Ronald McDonald Family Room. This time, they went home with a healthy baby.
The Millers moved to central Indiana in 2012. Now the mother of three, Jodi volunteers at the First Floor Ronald McDonald Family Room at Riley, and often brings in treats for guests.
“When I put a plate of warm food in the hands of a caregiver, I know I am doing a small but meaningful service for someone who may be having one of the hardest days of their lives,” she said. “I am so thankful that I can be there in that moment in their day and serve them with care and a genuine smile, just as others did for me when I was a grieving mom.”
Recently, she was asked to fill a volunteer shift at the Ronald McDonald Family Room in the Maternity Tower at Riley just steps away from where Jenna had been treated. She was flooded by memories and a sense of gratitude.
“I couldn’t have made it without the love and support of others, many of whom were strangers to me. Many of the gestures were very simple, but so profound to me. Each act let me know that I was not alone, and that people truly cared. In giving back I feel like I am honoring my daughter in a very special way and that her short life is having an impact almost 20 years later,” she said.