Timothy Miller is a new Orlando resident who is opening a medical practice in Avalon Park and lives with his wife and two sons in Lake Nona. His father had always been his role model and following the attacks of 9/11, became a hero to him and to the thousands affected by 9/11. His father, Richard Miller, was a police officer and rescue worker. Following the attacks, Timothy’s father was called in for the rescue efforts at ground zero.
Tim remembers Richard had the day off, but “when everything hit, he got in the car and went.” They heard from him briefly that he had arrived, the towers had collapsed and communication devices were going haywire. Tim said they heard from him sporadically, but he did not physically see his father for three months.
Richard slept in bunkers between rescue shifts and worked tirelessly for weeks trying to save every life possible. Thinking back, Tim is still so proud of his father’s actions in the aftermath of the horrific attacks. “There’s a certain breed that drives you to that, selfless and someone who is willing to put harm in their own path to take away harm from others,” he said. “My dad had that instinct all the time. He shared that mindset with all of his colleagues.”
At the time of the attack, Tim was still a teenager but remembers it matured him quickly. “I never realized he could die on any shift until that day, which all first responders face that every day, it could happen at any minute,” Tim said. “It made me appreciate the relationship more.”
In June of 2006, Timothy’s father was diagnosed with kidney, liver, and lung cancer, which the doctors believed was caused by his efforts at ground zero. “It definitely changed everything, not for the worse or better,” Tim reflected on his father’s actions. “He viewed life differently, he understood how quickly things could change, and how important it was to try to enjoy the moment.”
Sadly, Richard passed away on February 8, 2010.
“With everything going on with his diagnosis and failing health, he never regretted anything and that sticks with me,” Tim said. “Knowing his life would end sooner because of what he did never changed the way he acted or how he felt. It is definitely something I am going to pass on to my family. It took a while to process that thought. That’s how he felt through everything and it gives me hope for the future.”
Tim hoped to emulate and honor his father by pursuing a career that would allow him to help those in need. His mother Ellen was an ER nurse for decades and other family members of his work as firefighters and teachers. There was a strong desire to give back to others. Timothy was accepted into the Johns Hopkins University for his undergraduate studies and planned to pursue a career in medicine. However, the cost associated with this education opportunity was daunting and, with the loss of his father, did not seem like a realistic possibility.
But then, Timothy was told about the Families of Freedom Fund, a fund founded by former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, to assist the children of those killed or severely injured in the attacks on September 11, 2001 or rescue efforts in the days after. It is because of this fund’s generosity and support that Timothy was able to go on to study medicine as he desired and become a physician.
“It was my dream but it carried a hefty bill with it,” Tim said. “Financially I knew it wasn’t feasible, but the Families of Freedom Fund gave me the opportunity to pursue that education and get to where I am now. If it wasn’t for that, there would be no way I would have been able to do it.”
20 years after the 9/11 attacks, the impacts are still being felt by families and Americans everywhere. “I can’t even believe it’s been 20 years,” Tim said. “I think about my dad all the time and I cant believe how fast time has gone by. You still see people impacted by it and we have these chats and groups who console each other. I had a patient who was directly impacted on 9/11, it impacts people all over the country, and speaks to how it shaped the way we are now. 20 years, given it feels like it’s a drop in the bucket, having those memories and shared experiences keep those people’s lives with us.”
“What my dad did, it was a testament to the person he still is, we keep him alive with our young boys, telling stories and showing photos to my boys and family. He was a really cool dude and a really nice guy, I wish more could have known him.”
Tim also reflects on the importance of supporting all of those affected. “It’s very easy to feel alone and isolated because it’s been 20 years,” he said. “It’s only in mainstream when the anniversary comes up. You’re not alone. There are people who care about them and can help them in their grieving. My mother grieves on a daily basis and cries every day for my father. Sometimes people don’t know where to turn, but there are still people being impacted by it and we’re not alone, we can get through it.”
To the families who lost loved ones on or after 9/11, Tim’s message is clear. “They are heroes. Looking forward and beyond, if we can do unto others and be in a situation where we can help someone else have a better life or better situation, that will help this world,” he said. “There’s a hope that if we can be unified again like after 9/11, things will be so much better.”