The Road Forward: From Tragedy to Medical Residency

Only a small tracheotomy scar hints at how close Matt Miller, MD, came to losing his life in a bicycle accident nine years ago. Today, he channels his energy into a demanding medical residency in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. He’s putting his skills—and his personal experience—into helping others who may face the same long and uncertain recovery that he endured.

Miller’s ordeal began on November 2, 2008, when, as a UVA undergrad training for a triathlon, he lost control of his bike on the Blue Ridge Parkway, falling into oncoming traffic and being struck, face-first, by a car. Miller still has virtually no recollection of the accident or the days that followed, but he owes his survival to some skilled and fast-thinking medical experts and first responders, as well as a series of extremely fortunate events.

Remarkably, the person driving the car just behind the one that hit Miller was Mark Harris, MD, an anesthesiologist who went to work on Miller immediately. Miller was air-lifted to UVA Medical Center, where physicians discovered that nearly every bone in his face had been broken or shattered. Amazingly, Miller survived and made a full recovery from a crushed face and traumatic brain injury. He even managed to graduate on time, with his stellar academic record intact.

The accident solidified Miller’s desire to become a physician, and, in June 2014, after finishing medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, he returned to UVA for his residency, in, not surprisingly, Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery.

“I tried to keep an open mind when I was picking a specialty,” says Miller, “but it was very difficult to not be biased toward the one that helped save my life.”

I tried to keep an open mind when I was picking a specialty, but it was very difficult to not be biased toward the one that helped save my life.
Matt Miller, MD

Miller now trains with attending physician Jared Christophel, MD, who was chief resident when Miller’s accident occurred. Christophel, along with Stephen Park, MD, and a host of others, made up the powerful team—in Trauma, Neurosurgery, Facial Plastics and other specialties—that cared for Miller throughout his recovery.

“The faculty at UVA are tremendous teachers,” says Miller. “I’m constantly impressed by how much they care for their patients. I remember how important that was for me when I was the patient, and it is just as important for me to see this as a resident physician training with them.”

Now that he’s on the other side of the stethoscope, Miller rarely shares his personal story, unless a patient asks about his scar.

"I think my personal experience motivates me in certain situations to take extra time with patients and provide explanations to patients and families about what they are going through,” he says.

Miller’s experience changed his life and the lives of his parents and older brother—all UVA graduates. Today, their many interests at UVA have expanded to include UVA Health System. They have not forgotten the physicians, nurses, and staff at UVA who were so attentive to Matt’s care.

“We can never repay what UVA did for our son Matt,” says Mike Miller, who also serves on the UVA Health Foundation Board. “But we can give of our resources and of our time. You never think that something like what happened to Matt can happen to you. My family is so grateful for Matt’s recovery and so proud of what he is accomplishing that we just want to do what we can to give back and hopefully help make a difference.”

Matt’s experiences are chronicled in The Road Back, a Journey of Grace and Grit, by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and UVA grad Michael Vitez, formerly of The Philadelphia Inquirer.