Year later, Miller thankful for healthy daughter

MIAMI — Mike Miller is eyeing two things. One, obviously, is a first NBA title.

The other? When the Miami Heat season ends, his daughter will be old enough for Miller to make another trip to the tattoo parlor.

It was nearly one year ago — May 19, 2011 — that Jaelyn Miller was born with a ventricular septal defect, having five holes in her heart. For 10 days, she was hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit at a South Florida hospital, and it was two months before doctors were very confident she wouldn’t need heart surgery.

For nearly a month after Jaelyn’s birth, Miller, a sharpshooting Heat swingman, played in the postseason with his daughter’s health on his mind. He also had a ruptured tendon on his left thumb (non-shooting hand) he had suffered just before the start of the playoffs. The Heat ended up losing to Dallas in the Finals, with Miller finishing off a forgettable postseason.

But a year later, Jaelyn is healthy. And her hand is now big enough for something her father has in mind.

“He wants to get her handprint tattooed (on his chest),” said Miller’s wife, Jennifer Miller, who said Jaelyn is “doing wonderful” now. “He wanted to get it (last year), but her hand was so small he decided to wait.”

So after the season, Jaelyn’s name will be inked on her father’s chest alongside tattoos honoring her brothers, Mason, 9, and Mavrick, 7. Mason’s reads “Ace” for his middle name and the tattoo includes a playing card. Mavrick’s reads “Mayz,” his middle name, and it is written on a cross.

It remains to be seen whether Miller also will consider a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien Trophy if the Heat win it all. Regardless, the Heat having Miller more healthy and with more peace of mind during these playoffs sure helps their chances.

“I’m a little more fresh in the mind and fresh in the body, which makes a difference,” Miller said of these playoffs compared with last season, when he shot just 29.7 percent on 3-pointers and averaged a meager 2.6 points in the postseason.

In Miami’s 4-1 first-round win over New York, Miller shot 39.3 percent from long range while averaging 7.2 points. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has given Miller the green light to fire away after he shot 45.3 percent on 3-pointers during the regular season to tie for fourth in the NBA.

The Heat quickly dispatching the Knicks has given Miller some extra time at his Pompano Beach, Fla., home before they face Indiana in an East semifinal that starts Sunday. So that means more time to spend with his daughter, whom he calls his “little princess.”

“It’s a huge difference between when the boys were babies,” Jennifer Miller said about how her husband treats Jaelyn as opposed to the couple’s first two children. “He definitely babies her. He loves her and dotes on her. With the boys, he was rougher and did more boy things. He just thinks she’s so cute. He holds her and gives her kisses. I told him, ‘Get ready when she’s old enough for the tea parties.’ “

No doubt Miller won’t have any problem with those. He’s delighted with the progress Jaelyn has made in the past year.

“It was scary,” Miller said of what he went through last year. “But everything is good now, knock on wood. She’s getting better every day, and hopefully everything will be taken care of. She’s down to one hole (in her heart, with the other four having naturally closed), which is great. Everybody seems to think she’s improved.”

Jaelyn last went to the doctor in January, and Jennifer Miller said the family was told there’s a 99 percent chance she won’t need surgery. They’re not scheduled to take her in for another checkup until next January.

But there were some anxious times last May. In addition to being born with the ventricular septal defect, Jaelyn had fluid in her lungs due to the umbilical cord having wrapped around her neck during birth.

Jennifer Miller went into a labor shortly before 4 a.m. on May 19, when Miller had arrived at the hospital after playing in the May 18 Eastern Conference semifinals Game 2 at Chicago. Miller was up all night and day awaiting the birth of the baby, which came at 4 p.m.

After the complications surfaced, Miller barely slept while remaining at the hospital. There was doubt whether he would be available for Game 3 on May 22 in Miami. Miller did play, and he went scoreless in nearly 13 minutes of playing time.

“It was tough going (to the game) and leaving the family during the time when they needed you,” Miller said. “But they (other family members) wanted me to play, and I wanted to play, but it was difficult when they’re doing what they’re doing and I’m out there trying to do what I’m doing. It was a difficult decision, but, at the end of the day, it was being part of (the playoffs) and there wasn’t much I could up there (at the Fort Lauderdale hospital). The doctors had it pretty much under control.”

For Game 4 on May 24 in Miami, Miller donned pink shoelaces in Jaeyln’s honor in addition to writing her name on his shoes. He had his best game of the playoffs, totaling 12 points and nine rebounds.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said of Miller then playing those games. “He showed up and played. He had every excuse to not even be in the arena.”

The Heat eventually dispatched the Bulls in five games to advance to the Finals against Dallas. But Miller struggled throughout that series, averaging 3.5 points per game.

Injuries played a key role in his difficulties. In addition to the left thumb problem, Miller had suffered a fracture and ligament damage in his right thumb earlier in the season and he also had a shoulder problem during the playoffs.

With Jaelyn, while the fluid in her lungs was no longer an issue, it wasn’t until July that doctors felt very good the holes in Jaelyn’s heart would heal on their own. It was then determined there was an 80 percent chance she wouldn’t need surgery.

“We were at ease,” said Jennifer Miller.

The family was even more at ease when the doctors gave the revised figure Jan. 6 of 99 percent. Miller was out then, having missed the first 12 games of this season due to hernia surgery. But when he played his first game, Jan. 17 against San Antonio, he shot 6 of 6, all of them 3-pointers, for 18 points.

Miller was hurt again March 10, suffering a sprained left ankle that would keep him out three weeks. Overall, though, his scoring went up from 5.6 last season to 6.1, and his 3-point percentage soared from last year’s 36.4.

“I went through some difficulties health-wise this year, but at least it wasn’t anything with my hands, which was frustrating,” said Miller, who is still limping a bit on his ankle.

Miller now uses his healthy hands to fire jumpers and to show off photos of Jaelyn in the locker room.

“I see pictures of his little girl every now and then and just to see how much of a fighter she his, to see her these days, it’s a wonderful, beautiful thing,” said Bosh, whose wife, Andrienne, gave birth May 3 to a boy, Jackson.

Jaelyn has been to about 10 games this season at AmericanAirlines Arena. While her mother says it will be at least another year before she has any idea her father is on the court playing, Jennifer Miller says Jaelyn has a great time.

“She enjoys the crowd,” she said. “She is starting to learn to clap. When she does that, she smiles at everybody sitting around her.”

When May 19 arrives, Miller will be on the road with the Heat in Indiana. But it will be special.

“It’s going to be a happy day, a very, very happy day,” he said. “(Jaelyn’s) come a long way, and we’re so excited about it.”