Ryan’s Heart: MSU Student Chronicles His Heart Transplant Journey


Montclair State University broadcasting student Ryan Miller underwent a heart transplant four years ago to save his life after being diagnosed with an enlarged heart. He recently met the parents of his donor and chronicled the meeting in a mini three-part documentary.

Ryan was a junior at Monroe Township High School four years ago, playing soccer. But in December when a doctor ordered a chest X-ray after suspecting pneumonia, Ryan and his parents received bad news. He had an enlarged heart and needed medical care. He was transported to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, one of the top heart hospitals in the country.

On New Year’s Eve, doctors tried to implant a defibrillator in Ryan, but it didn’t go well. He lost blood flow to the brain for four minutes and was put on a machine to help his heart. The next few weeks brought more complications and doctors told the Millers that Ryan needed a heart transplant to save his life. The family also learned of the limited supply.

“There are somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 patients with end stage heart failure in the United States that might be eligible for heart transplants, but there are only 2,300 donors,” said Dr. Mark Zucker of Barnabas Health Heart Center.

Ryan was placed at the top of the list because he was just 16 at the time and the family learned that a match had been found.

“Within minutes what hit Mom and I was the fact that we’re sitting here celebrating and somebody had to lose their life for this to happen,” said Rich Miller, Ryan’s father. “There’s a set of parents that lost a child so this could happen.”

Ryan and his parents traveled to Bermuda to meet the parents of his donor Dakarai Tucker, the 15-year-old who died of a brain aneurism four years ago. “We needed to make this trip to let the family who gave me their son’s heart know how much their gift meant to us,” Ryan said.