Miller Kaapke is a "miracle child" with congenital heart disease. He has defied doctors after he was pronounced dead, with no pulse for almost a half an hour.
The Gilbert 13-year-old has undergone open-heart surgery and has a pacemaker and a defibrillator. He has had to relearn how to walk, talk and recognize his four siblings.
In 2009, after a year of low energy, Miller needed more surgery to replace his pulmonary valve. He had to rest just to walk upstairs to his bedroom.
Thanks to a new medical device approved by the Food and Drug Administration a week and a half ago, Miller is back to playing the drums in his Gilbert Junior High School band, and playing kickball and dodgeball with a chest protector.
"He's got the energy to be a kid again," said Miller's dad, Bob Kaapke, an entrepreneur. "Now, he just flies up those stairs, and he's much happier."
Miller is one of 150 patients throughout the country accepted into a research trial to receive a replacement heart valve implanted without surgery. In April 2009, Miller underwent the minimally invasive procedure to receive the Melody Transcatheter Pulmonary Valve at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York, on the campus of Columbia University.
Twenty-four hours after the procedure, Miller left the hospital, walked around Times Square and went to see the Blue Man Group. It was a far cry from the weeklong hospital stay Miller endured after his open-heart surgery.
"There was no heart-lung machine, no invasive surgery, no long hospital stay," said Miller's mom, Tracy Kaapke, an administrative assistant at Montessori Education Centre in Mesa.
Four days after the new procedure, Miller went ice skating for the first time.
"For now, with a cardiac son, this has been an amazing choice," Tracy said.
The procedure and the device, made by Medtronic, went "remarkably well" with Miller, said Dr. William Hellenbrand, who operated on Miller.
"We're going to follow him very carefully (for at least five years), along with all the other 150 patients," Hellenbrand said. "The issue is how long will this valve last? We put an adult-size valve in him, and we are very hopeful this will last a long time."
You'd never know Miller has been through so much, besides his scars and the bump in his chest from the defibrillators, which he calls his "man boob."
Dr. Mary Jo Kutler, Miller's pediatrician, discovered Miller's heart problem when he was 4 weeks old. Miller was diagnosed with aortic subvalve stenosis, an ailment that can kill undiagnosed teens when they are playing sports.
Miller's condition was controlled by medication, but he needed open-heart surgery when he was 18 months old to remove a muscle flap that caused his heart to work overtime.
Then, when Miller was 8 years old, he complained of tightness in his chest while playing sports. Doctors discovered a bad aortic valve and Miller underwent another surgery.
In March 2008, Miller, then 11, collapsed in his home and went into cardiac arrest. He had no pulse, and was pronounced dead by paramedics. They were able to get a pulse started 23 minutes later.
Miller's dad performed nonstop chest compressions to keep his son's blood and oxygen flowing until the paramedics arrived and then the staff at Banner Desert Medical Center took control. The family believes that's the reason Miller suffered no major brain damage.
"He only survived because of the people who touched him that day," Tracy said.
Tracy remembers telling her son in his ear, "You can do this."
Miller's pediatrician calls him a "miracle child" and credits his dedicated, supportive family, and his new Melody valve.
"It just goes to show you how wonderful technology is and how, as time advances, technology advances, too," Kutler said.