Health

Wish takes family to 'Hamilton' on Broadway

Jack, Jillian, Max, Greta, Cole and Ava Miller show off their signs during a taping of "Today" in New York. The Make-A-Wish Foundtation sent Jack and his family to New York last month after he wished to see "Hamilton" on Broadway. Jack spent more than 100 days in isolation last year for treatment of a rare bone marrow disease. | Submitted Photo
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 6, 2018 9:50 am

QUINCY -- In isolation for more than 100 days last year at St. Louis Children's Hospital, Jack Miller would rap to the sounds of the medical equipment.

"Whenever the medicine would run out, it would ‘beep, beep,' and he'd be like ‘This is my jam!' " said his mother, Jillian Miller.

Being treated for a rare bone marrow disease called aplastic anemia, 9-year-old Jack and his mother listened to the soundtrack from "Hamilton" -- a musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton -- to pass the time.

"I have recordings of him with his bald head after chemotherapy singing ‘in the eye of the hurricane,' " said Miller, referring to the song "Hurricane."

Jack and his mother -- along with his father, Cole, and his siblings, Ava, 17, Greta, 15, and Max, 13 -- spent the week of July 23 in New York City as part of his wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation to see "Hamilton," which incorporates hip-hop and rap in its score, on Broadway.

The wish surprised the local team from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"They had never even heard of ‘Hamilton,' " Jillian Miller said.

"The Make-A-Wish people? Because I know every single Children's Hospital people knows about ‘Hamilton,' and really wants to go see it," Jack said.

He said his favorite part of "Hamilton" is "when (Aaron) Burr shoots Hamilton."

"The part where (Burr) sings ‘Wait for It,'" he then said seriously. The song sung by Burr describes how his time for success will come as he watches Hamilton succeed professionally and personally.

The musical drew in the entire family, who are Revolutionary War re-enactors, after Ava brought the music home.

Ava wrote "Hamilton" writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda to tell him Jack's story and how "Hamilton" helped lift everyone's spirits during the difficult time.

Miranda wrote her back, thanking her for the letter.

"I was humbled to read how the music is helping your family through such difficult times," Miranda wrote. "I am in awe of Jack's strength and Max's valor. Please extend my warmest regards to the rest of your lovely family."

Jack's illness was discovered in 2016, after he began appearing pale and bruised.

Jillian Miller said they wrote off the paleness to their good use of sunscreen and the bruises to the trampoline next door. However, she later noticed that Jack had no energy, so she made an appointment with a doctor, thinking he might need some iron supplements. A blood test was performed.

"We went home, and about 20 minutes later the doctor was calling us and said: ‘Get to an emergency room. You're son practically has no blood,' " Jillian Miller recalled. "His blood counts were bottoming out."

After Jack was taken to Children's Hospital, the family was told he likely had leukemia, but six days later, they learned otherwise.

"They didn't know what it was," Jillian Miller said. "He had a bone marrow failure."

Days after Jack turned 7, the diagnosis became aplastic anemia, which only 600 to 700 people are diagnosed with each year.

He first underwent an immunosuppressant treatment, which was unsuccessful. During that treatment, Jack's siblings were tested to see whether they were a match for a bone marrow transplant.

Max was a match, and on Nov. 9, 2016, Jack received the transplant.

"He went through all kinds of chemotherapy," Jillian Miller said. "We were in isolation for an entire month that he did not leave the room. After that he and I lived in St. Louis for another 100 days in isolation.

"He kept getting better. There were bumps in the road, but he's really a miracle baby. His bone marrow is completely his brother's bone marrow. He thought he was going to be a sixth-grader when we got out of this."

He returned home in March 2017.

While Jack was hospitalized, he and his mother would listen to the "Hamilton" soundtrack. When his father and siblings would visit, they would listen to the soundtrack while driving to St. Louis.

"By the time we all got back together, we all knew the score top to bottom, and could pick any part and sing it around the dinner table," Jillian Miller said. "So when Make-A-Wish Foundation asked what his wish was, it was to see ‘Hamilton' on Broadway."

The family spent an entire week taking in the sites of New York, which included fifth-row seats for a "Hamilton" performance.

Jack said he enjoyed taking the elevator up to the Empire State Building's observation deck to see the entire city.

"That was pretty fun," he said. "We saw the Flatiron Building, the World Trade Center. We saw the Statute of Liberty from up there and Central Park."

The most amazing part, though, is that Jack is completely healthy.

"We've just moved into a new phase of treatment, where he only has to go back every six months, and then it will move out to every year," Jillian Miller said.

Throughout Jack's illness, the community has supported the family, especially the family's church, St. John's Anglican Church.

"You really get a new appreciation for the community you have," Jillian Miller said.