Trever Miller has Walked in PJ Walters' Shoes

Almost six years ago, St. Louis Cardinals reliever Trever Miller's prematurely-born daughter had serious heart problems, a challenge teammate P.J. Walters is currently facing.

Trever Miller has been where P.J. Walters is today, deeply concerned over a seriously ill prematurely-born infant daughter during the baseball season. Precisely because Miller knows what is involved, he is giving his St. Louis Cardinals teammate space to deal with his problems separately from their common vocation.


The vast majority of the readers of this article are probably already familiar with the basic story of Annabelle Faith Walters, born one trimester early on February 10. Just now entering her second month, the first child of the pitcher and his wife Brittney continues to fight for her life in a Mobile, Alabama Neo-Natal Intensive Care facility (NICU).


Miller went through similar trials almost six years ago. His youngest of three children, Grace Elizabeth, was born in June 2004 with a genetic condition so rare that it doesn't even have a name, the 36-year-old explains. It is one of only 20 known cases in the world with the last having surfaced in 1980.


Among the by-products of her pair of chromosome disorders is that Grace was born with two holes in her heart and like Annabelle, was not expected to live beyond her first month.


"Grace was born via an emergency Caesarean Section," Miller said. "The prognosis was very bleak." 


Miller and his wife were forced to make a very difficult call.


"We had the option of withdrawing support and let her go or (the doctors saying regarding surgery saying) ‘We can't give you any prognosis. We don't know,'" Miller explained. "With her holes in her heart, it was just trying to keep her body alive. So we had to make the tough decision to have open heart surgery on a month-old child or let her die a very difficult death."


That surgery was a turning point for Grace and the Miller family.


"From that point on, Grace started getting a little stronger and a little bigger," Trever said. "She still has a trach and a tube into her small intestine due to acid reflux. It has been a learning process for us and the doctors."


Now, 5 ½, Grace enjoys as normal a life as possible, with appropriate precautions taken.


"She goes to school three days a week and physical therapy outside the home one day a week," Miller said. "We take her everywhere we can as long as she is not sick. If she gets a cold it could turn into pneumonia pretty quickly, then it would be back in the hospital."


In another parallel between the two situations, Walters left Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida to return to Mobile last Thursday, one week ago. The reason – emergency surgery was required on Annabelle.


She was suffering from leaking in her abdomen. It was determined two inches of her intestines had died and needed to be removed immediately.


Annabelle initially came through the surgery well, but experienced a setback on Saturday, delaying Walters' return to his teammates until Monday night. At this point it is unclear when the right-hander will pitch in a game, yet that seems the least of anyone's worries.


Differences in the two cases include the fact that the hole in Annabelle's heart, apparently not genetic-related, has actually aided her survival.


"The good news is the cardiologist says that things going on with her heart are unexplainable… and that the heart actually is working better," explains new grandpa Phillip Walters.


The pitcher describes the hole in Annabelle's heart as "having saved her life," noting that one heart valve is not working. The flow through the hole is compensating, keeping his daughter alive, Walters explained on Wednesday.


Both families have been extremely supportive with P.J.'s parents residing within an hour of the NICU, Brittney's mother working at a hospital almost right across the street from Annabelle's facility and a lifetime's worth of friends nearby. That network helped P.J. return to Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida with a clearer conscience.


The family also appreciates the continued messages of support from countless strangers, many from the extended Cardinals community. They ask for the prayers to keep coming.


Looking back on his 2004 experiences, Miller worked hard to separate his challenges with Grace from his work.


"I didn't want to talk about it (at the time) at the ballpark," Miller recalled. "That was my time to be normal - not to have all that going on. I could come to the park and kind of get away from it – on the mound. That is where I felt sane. During the time I was pitching, it couldn't be on my mind. I had to focus on what I was doing and doing what comes naturally to me."


Then a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Miller most valued those teammates who didn't keep bringing up his personal problems.


"I had some great teammates who helped me out – Lance Carter, Travis Harper and Aubrey Huff," Miller said. "They just treated me like nothing was different, which helped me get through it mentally."


Miller is familiar with Walters' situation, but purposely had not spoken with P.J., 11 years his junior, about his experiences with Grace. He suspects Walters prefers it that way.


"I will be here if he needs to talk about it, obviously," Miller explained. "He is a man. He will come to me if he wants to discuss anything and I will be open to it. I will be a shoulder to lean on, but I don't want to kill him with it. A lot of people are coming up to him and asking him about it. It gets kind of old, discussing the same thing over and over again.


"That is how I deal with it; how I've handled it. I just treat him like P.J. Walters, a great right-handed pitcher in the Cardinals organization," Miller stated.


If Walters' family situation evolves as Miller's did, P.J. will grow from the experience. Miller explains what it meant to him.


"As I was older, I was able to get the story out and share it with other people," he said. "It made us better people in the process. I got involved with charity work and I started running. It has been a blessing. We wouldn't want it any other way.


"Obviously, we were definitely challenged by this but we love our baby. Would we like it better if she wasn't? We wanted her to be normal but it was His job first and our responsibility after. That is how we are dealing with it," Miller concluded.


As P.J. turns 25 years of age tomorrow, Friday, March 12, Annabelle Faith will be into her second day of her second month and counting.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation Blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.


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