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Super Strength

Son Of Fairview Native Battles Rare Blood Disease


Grandparents Maynard and Sandra Bills provide comfort to Ty Miller. The 13-year-old is recovering from a bone marrow transplant. (Submitted)

Fairview native Ann-Marie (Bills) Zahn notes that at times it's been heartbreaking for her, but she is extremely proud of the courage demonstrated by her 13-year-old son, Ty Miller, as he continues recovery from a bone marrow transplant.

"Watching my kid go through what he went through, it was brutal," Zahn, a Fairview High School graduate, said. "My kid is amazing."

Miller is recovering from a bone marrow transplant, which took place on April 1. The hope is he can be given approval from University of Minnesota physicians on July 11 to return home, which is Fargo, N.D.

Zahn explains the medical journey began when her son was only 8 years old and was diagnosed with the rare blood disorder of polycythemia. Zahn said less than 30 children in the country suffer from the condition, which features an abnormally increased concentration of hemoglobin in the blood.

Zahn said the condition mainly effects men between the ages of 60-65. The thickening blood creates blood clots. After 20 years, patients often develop leukemia.

Physicians started to perform bone marrow biopsies on Ty annually. The first two years, the tests were negative, but last year the result was minor and this year it increased to moderate.

Zahn said there are four stages and Ty was diagnosed of being between stages two and three. At stage four, physicians will no longer perform a bone marrow transplant.

The mother said there were four matches for Ty in the donor's bank, and three of the individuals stepped forward for the procedure at the University of Minnesota.

"It's one of the best places for bone marrow operations," Zahn said of the university. "He's had amazing care."

After chemotherapy took place for eight days in late March, the transport was held April 1.

Recovery was extremely difficult especially in the beginning. Without an immune system, Ty was feeling ill and suffering with huge mouth sores.

One rule is that the patient must stay within 30 miles of the hospital for at least 100 days. Once when they were out of the hospital, Ty threw up 22 times in a 48-hour time period. Medical staff then had to determine, one by one, which of the 32 pills that Ty was taking was causing him to become ill.

Zahn said her 13-year-old son, who is the grandson of Maynard and Sandra Bills, now keeps track of when he takes all of his medication and even puts in his own IV line.

"He just rolls with it," she noted. "He's happy, he has some energy. He gets tired pretty easily."

With family members, Ty was able to attend his middle school's final day of the school year. The day included being handed many posters, cards, etc.

Also given was a zip drive featuring the school's students singing, many wearing their Super Ty T-shirts, encouraging words to Ty. "We know you are afraid, and we are too. But you'll never be alone, we promise you. When you are weak, we'll be strong. When you let go, we'll hold on." "We're going to love you through it."

Zahn said students and teachers took an existing song and changed it to fit Ty's battle. "It's amazing what they were able to do."

She thanks school and community members as well as families for holding fundraisers and providing support.

That support included a lot of encouraging words and prayers from her old hometown in eastern Montana.

"Once a Warrior, always a Warrior," Zahn said of the support from Fairview. "It doesn't matter how long you're gone."


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