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Published in CenterView on February 11, 2013
Dr. Suzanne and Dr. Richard Miller
Dr. Suzanne and Dr. Richard Miller

Annual foodie event honors ‘first couple’ of children’s medicine at UMMC

By Jack Mazurak

As pediatric pulmonary and surgical physicians for close to 80 years combined at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. Richard and Dr. Suzanne Miller helped train hundreds of physicians and improve the lives of thousands of Mississippi children.

This month, Taste of the U, the annual benefit for the UMMC Alliance, will honor the couple’s legacy while raising funds for the Medical Center’s most vulnerable children. Taste of the U is set for Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center.

The Millers arrived in Mississippi in 1969, a time when a relative handful of Medical Center faculty covered all the various specialties in the adult and pediatric areas. The Department of Pediatrics consisted of five physicians and, before Richard Miller, the state had no pediatric surgeon.

In the intervening years, the Department of Pediatrics has grown to include more than 100 physicians and close to 20 specialties. The Department of Surgery now has four pediatric surgeons and has started a pediatric surgery fellowship program.

Suzanne Miller, in all likelihood Mississippi’s first pediatric pulmonologist, specialized in treating patients with cystic fibrosis. On her arrival, the average lifespan of a Mississippi cystic fibrosis patient was eight years, about half the national average.

Richard Miller grew up in Columbia, Conn., always knowing he wanted to go into medicine. Suzanne Miller, from Irondequoit, N.Y., an upstate town near Rochester, considered nursing, but headed into medicine. They met during their residencies at the University Hospitals of Cleveland.

Following additional training at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, the couple returned to Cleveland.

UMMC’s Department of Pediatrics expanded into a new, round children’s hospital building in 1967. Dr. Blair Batson, chair of pediatrics, discussed adding a pediatric surgeon with Dr. James Hardy, then chair of surgery.

Hardy called to invite Richard Miller for a visit.

After his visit, Miller went back to Cleveland and talked it over with Suzanne. “We both decided we would come to Jackson.”

The couple bought a house in Jackson, where they still live today, and raised four children. They now have 12 grandchildren. As their family grew, so did their practices, the Department of Pediatrics and UMMC in total.

“When you’re starting a new specialty in the hospital and in the state, referring physicians aren’t aware of you,” Richard Miller said. “Pediatric surgery gradually got going and more patients came in.”

At the same time, he increasingly took on administrative duties.

“It got so that nearly half my time was spent in administration, the other half in pediatric surgery,” he said. “The seven-day workweek got longer.”

Though he came to UMMC as a surgeon, within two years Miller found himself interim chair of anesthesiology when that entire departmental faculty resigned. Though he admittedly was not an anesthesiologist, Miller ran the department for a year until Dr. James Arens came to UMMC with a new team.

“We got through the whole year without a mortality or any disaster that I know of,” Miller said.

Five years later, the Arens team left and Miller again became interim chairman.

Similarly, Miller had two stints - one three years long - as interim chair of the Department of Surgery after Hardy retired. He also served as associate dean for clinical affairs in the School of Medicine, medical director of the University Hospital and as a member or chair of numerous committees.

Suzanne Miller was hired on part-time, but jumped in to take care of pulmonary patients. Having trained in Cleveland with Dr. Leroy Matthews, a grandfather of the cystic fibrosis world, she was especially interested in Mississippi’s children with cystic fibrosis.

“About 30 patients originally came to the CF clinic,” she said. “The Medical Center now cares for about 200 adult and pediatric patients.”

In the 1970s, CF was a Fatal disease of childhood. With discovery of the CF gene and its metabolic error, newborn screening and greatly improved therapy, most CF patients now survive well into adulthood.

“Of further hope is the development of gene-modifying medications,” said Suzanne Miller.  

Suzanne Miller retired in 1999, but returned to lead the adult CF program in 2002 for eight years when a faculty member left. Additionally, when pediatric CF faculty members left in 2005, she reassumed leadership there until the arrival of Dr. Mark Majure in 2011.

She said the gradual and continuing addition of faculty members with special expertise and the many new facilities brought about by the Blair E. Batson Hospital Foundation stand out as the major changes she’s seen while at UMMC.

Taste of the U

Taste of the U logo 23Taste of the U, a massive, multi-theme party at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center, is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 23. The event raises funds for the UMMC Alliance, which supports patient and family needs, UMMC students and facilities.

Tickets cost $25 for adults, $15 for students and $5 for children and are available from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15 and Friday, Feb. 22, in the hallway leading to the Methodist Rehabilitation Center near McDonald’s, and online at umc.edu/alliance.

Chef teams can compete for several awards:
Best Presentation, People’s Choice, Children’s Choice, Best Taste, Heart Healthy, and the coveted Best Overall, which comes with the Dr. Fine Swine trophy and bragging rights for the next year. First- and second-runner-up winners also will be announced in the Best Overall category.

Chef team sign-ups are available by calling Melanie Lauderdale
at 5-8319 or e-mailing her at mlauderdale@umc.edu.

For more information, visit umc.edu/alliance.