Folks, I hope you will forgive a personal thread on here but I want to let you know about something I've started for the family of Wessa Miller, the girl who in 1998 gave Dale Earnhardt the lucky penny he had on his car when he won the Daytona 500. I wrote a story about her in February, 10 years after her brush with NASCAR history, and since then I've gotten to know the family a little. Wessa's dad, Booker, had emergency open-heart surgery a couple of months ago and their lives became even more complicated.
Below is the column I wrote Sunday about Pennies For Wessa, the fund I've had set up at a bank near where the Millers live. And here is a link to the original story I wrote in Februray.
If you would like to help, send a check made out to Pennies For Wessa to Pennies For Wessa, Attention: Mike Damron, Community Trust Bank, PO Box 39, Mouthcard, Ky. 41548. It surely would be appreciated.
The Charlotte Observer
Saturday, Jun. 14, 2008
It's Father's Day weekend, and that's a good reason to revisit the Miller family.
I last wrote about the Millers - Booker, Juanita and Wessa - in February, on the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's victory in the 1998 Daytona 500.
Wessa was a memorable part of that great NASCAR story. She was the 6-year-old girl who went to Daytona through the Make-A-Wish Foundation to meet Earnhardt and gave him a lucky penny. Earnhardt glued that penny to the inside of his No. 3 Chevrolet and, finally, won stock-car racing's biggest event after two decades of frustration.
Family is exactly the right word to describe the Millers.
Wessa, now 16, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Her parents, her extended family and neighbors in the small eastern Kentucky town of Phyllis, work hard to take care of her.
That job, however, took a tough turn about two months ago.
Juanita and Wessa were away in Lexington, Ky., making one of their regular trips to Wessa's doctors in the van that Earnhardt gave her after she gave him the lucky penny. Back home, Booker went to see his doctor in Pikeville.
He'd been having discomfort in his chest along with some shortness of breath. The doctor ordered some tests and he went in two days later. The doctor eventually decided to do a heart catheterization and found an aneurysm on Booker's aorta.
"The doctor told me that even if I was in the hospital with him standing there, unless I was prepped and ready for surgery, he wouldn't have time to save me if that thing blew," Booker said.
He was taken to surgery immediately.
"I prayed for God to let me come out of there," Booker said. "When I came to I thought I was going to die because I knew that a man couldn't be in that much pain."
Booker has a thing about people touching his face. He can't abide it.
"But in that hospital, I sent for my family and asked them all to touch my face," he said. But instead of those touches turning into farewell gestures, they seemed to help begin easing Booker's pain.
"When I saw them, I knew I had something to live for. And then, I came on out of there."
The aneurysm was repaired, but the recovery was just beginning. Juanita now had to take care of her husband as well as her daughter, which she's done with grace, patience and love.
Booker spent four weeks basically looking at the four walls of the house. He gets out to the garage behind the house some these days, but he still can't lift more than 25 pounds. That means he can't help Juanita get Wessa into and out of the bathtub and do a lot of other things he used to do to make life a little easier.
When I wrote about the Millers in February, a lot of people who saw the story asked me how they could help. I thought that I had something worked out to get them help on a new van, or at least some repairs made on the one they have.
I know things don't get done overnight, but patience is not one of my virtues. I've got to try something. I figure that if Wessa's lucky penny could make so much difference for Earnhardt in the Daytona 500, our pennies might make a difference for the Millers.
So I've set up Pennies For Wessa.
With the help of Mike Damron at the Community Trust Bank in Mouthcard, Ky., we've set up an account for anybody who'd like to help to send whatever they want to.
Every penny will go to the Miller family, for things like bathroom apparatus to help Wessa get in and out of the tub or anything that Juanita needs to help her take care of her daughter, her husband and herself.
The Miller family never asked for anything. They live with faith that God will provide for them and that He will give them the strength to deal with what life brings.
The way I see it, though, God shouldn't have to do it all by himself.
If you would like to help, send a check made out to Pennies For Wessa to Pennies For Wessa, Attention: Mike Damron, Community Trust Bank, PO Box 39, Mouthcard, Ky. 41548.