As a child, Nate Miller saw his older sister go to the hospital multiple times for surgery.
The family made countless trips to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis for appointments, procedures and surgeries for Alexandra Miller, who was born with a congenital heart defect and underwent surgeries until she was 16.
Now, Nate Miller wants to help children who have the same problems but not the same resources. The Center Grove High School graduate will travel to Iraq this summer as one of five U.S. students selected to participate in a two-month internship with the Preemptive Love Coalition.
The organization provides heart surgeries to Iraqi children in need while also providing training to doctors in the area.
Miller, a business finance major at Anderson University, will work behind the scenes of the organization.
Each intern will work with a different internal department, such as marketing or communications. The application process began in late 2013 and included multiple interviews via phone and video and a questionnaire.
He primarily will communicate with donors on the organization’s ongoing projects and accomplishments and also compile donor-related reports.
The Preemptive Love Coalition is 85 percent funded by the Iraqi government, with the other 15 percent coming from donations. The organization provides pediatric heart surgeries and training to doctors 48 weeks out of the year and has completed nearly 800 surgeries since August 2010.
“Normally when I tell people I’m going, they think I’m joking, and then ask what I’m actually doing this summer,” Miller said. “They’re usually surprised and want to know why I would want to go.”
His sister, now 22, is healthy and works for the University of Michigan. But her struggles are the reason the Miller family focuses its charitable efforts toward the American Heart Association and related causes.
“With her heart condition, a lot of people don’t always come out alive,” Nate Miller said. “She is lucky we live in a place where those surgeries are possible.”
Nate Miller’s internship will last from June through July in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. He has to raise $4,500 for his expenses, mainly airfare and accommodations, and already has raised roughly one-third of that amount.
The area he will stay and work in is considered the safest in Iraq, said Matt Willingham, the organization’s press secretary. The U.S. Department of State issued a warning against travel in Iraq in late 2013 but said the Kurdish region is more stable than other areas of the country.
“It definitely crossed my mind that it could be somewhat dangerous because it’s in that part of the world,” Nate Miller said. “But it wasn’t a factor that would have kept me from going.”
He has been in dangerous areas before on a mission trip, traveling with his family to Honduras in 2008.
Men with machine guns served as protection for the missionaries when they walked down some of the streets.
“Iraq, even for us, is a different world,” his father Charles Miller said.
Media reports about violence in Iraq are hard to miss, but almost all of the violence occurs outside the region where his son will be this summer, Charles Miller said.
“The idea of going someplace different, somewhere very unfamiliar, is something we hoped we could instill in all of our children,” his mother, Ellen Miller, said. “That’s a good thing, not a scary thing.”
Nate Miller needed some coaxing to become more outgoing, she said.
But he became highly interested in missionary work after the family trip to Honduras, his father said.
The family participated with Project Manuelito, a program that gets homeless children off the streets and into a group home. The Millers lived with more than 30 kids in the group home during the trip, helping with homework and serving
“When he was a little boy, he was the one that didn’t want to go to camp,” Ellen Miller said. “I had to do a lot of talking and do my song and dance to get him to go to the overnight camp when he was in fourth grade. Now, he’s 19 and wanting to go to Iraq by himself. So something has worked.”