Reasons to be thankful
JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Corrie Miller of Jim Thorpe, seated in wheelchair, receives gifts from a housewarming shower organized by members of the Gnaden Huetten Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.
As the Thanksgiving Day holiday approaches, Corrie Miller has a lot for which she is grateful.
She is thankful for the chance to start her life over after a fire destroyed her South Avenue dwelling in Jim Thorpe last Dec. 8.
She is thankful for friends like those in her Gnaden Huetten Chapter 203 of the Order of The Eastern Star in Lehighton, who held a housewarming shower for her to provide household items and monetary gifts to replace what she lost in that fire.
She is thankful for the efforts of the medical staff at Lehigh Valley Hospital and the staff at Hometown Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, who have helped her on the road to recovery.
Most of all, she thanks God she is alive at all, after sustaining burns on over 70 percent of her body in the blaze.
"They say very few people who have burns like that live to tell about it," said Miller from her room at the Hometown Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where she has been recovering since March.
Order of The Eastern Star members LeRoy and Katheryn Leibenguth, Worthy Patron and Worthy Matron; and Mildred Beers, secretary; presented Miller with the shower items, money and gift cards.
"Corrie lost everything in the fire, and we wanted to help her out," said Katheryn Leibenguth.
Miller has been retired from her job as a guidance counselor at the Carbon County Career Technical Institute, Jim Thorpe, since 2001. She had served as a part-time professor at Lehigh Carbon Community College, teaching introduction to psychology classes. She is also a commissioned lay pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Lehighton.
Miller had lived in her 2 1/2 story wood-frame home at 306 South Ave., which was built in the 1800s, all of her life. It was one side of a twin dwelling. Two other houses also caught fire, but were extinguished by firefighters.
She related what led to the terrible fire on Dec. 8 that claimed the house and nearly took her life on that night, during which there was a snowstorm.
"It was 2 a.m. I was sleeping," she said. "It was cold. I went to adjust the thermostat. There is a grate where the gas comes out. I hit a brass angel, which had an unlit candle on the base, and it rolled onto the heater."
Miller, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and arthritis, said as the fire started, she went onto her porch, pulled her therapy dog Molly out the door, and dialed 911.
"I am considered handi-capable and I was walking with a walker," said Miller.
Once she opened her door, however, the flames blew out her bay window, and she herself caught on fire.
"It was so cold out, I didn't realize my whole back was burning until my hair was on fire," she remarked.
At that point, she recalled sliding down her porch steps, and she said a neighbor, Dennis Balliet, put her into a snow bank to put out the flames.
"They said that was the best thing he could have done for me," stated Miller.
Reportedly, another unidentified woman also assisted in getting Miller off the porch.
During her ordeal, Miller stressed that she realized a special force was working to keep her alive.
"Most importantly, I was praying and I looked up and saw the biggest star I ever saw in my life," she said. "The first thing I said was, 'God, take me,' but I realized it was God who was in control, and I knew if I stayed here, he would give me all the energy to deal with what I'm going to need.
"It was then a light surrounded Molly, my black lab, and me. We were centered in the bright light, and it was so warm and comforting. It was so overwhelming, and I felt so much love. After that, everything went dark."
When Miller woke, she was in Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township, where she spent 99 days, much of it in an induced coma. Her kidneys failed several times, and she developed pneumonia.
"They wanted to pull the plug on me, but my fiance, Norm Sterling, said no, she's going to make it," she mentioned. "I had people praying for me from all over the U.S."
In March, she was finally awake. By the last week of that month, she was in the Hometown rehabilitation center, working to regain what she had lost physically.
"I had to learn to eat, talk and swallow on my own," she noted. "They had me on a feeding tube. I had to learn to walk and move my hands and head. I couldn't move my arms when I came to Hometown. Every day I would look out the window and say, 'What do you want from me?'
"I was fortunate I did not burn my palms, because I would have lost all the tendons and muscles in my hands," she added.
"My activities leaders had an empty tree in my room, and every time I accomplished something, they would put it on the tree. The first one was to touch my nose, because it was very difficult to bend because of the burns."
Despite the hard road facing her, Miller is managing to put her life back together.
"They have a wonderful physical and occupational therapy program here in Hometown," she said. "Everybody here is so caring. They just care about you.
She feels it is a miracle that she is alive, and she is grateful for all the support she has received in her recovery.
"I received so much love from my brothers and sisters in the Eastern Star," she remarked. "I also had the entire wall covered with over 170 cards. When something like this happens, you find out who your friends are."
Fortunately, Miller had fire insurance on her home. She and her fiance have purchased a modular home on South Avenue and she said she is almost ready to move in and resume her life.
"I'm looking at Christmas, and I'm getting out of here by hook or by crook, even if I have to latch on to one of Santa's reindeer," she joked.
She also has a renewed appreciation for Thanksgiving.
"People step over Thanksgiving all the time, and it's almost a forgotten holiday," she said. "I'm very thankful. I'm alive, and you don't realize how precious that is."