Michelle Miller Normal For Us: The Miller Twins Mariya Miller
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Frequently Asked Questions
Mariya and Michelle feed carrots to their horses
Fritz helps Mariya fix a problem with her chair
Q: What's the latest with the Miller family?
A: Cindy says the whole family had a busy and fun summer. School starts soon, and everyone is doing "great!"

The twins, who turned 14 in April, will be in 9th grade. They'll be trying out a new schedule this year, spending just half of each day at school, and the other half being home-schooled by Cindy. Like the rest of the family, Mariya and Michelle have had mixed feelings about being on-camera so often during the making of this documentary. But now that it's finished, Mom says the girls are actually pretty excited about being on national television.

Oldest son Brandon is in college in Colorado, while 16-year-old Brice will be a sophomore at Soldotna High School this year. The family fireball, Kiara, is seven now and soon to start second grade.
Q: What is the story on the chairs?
A: Until recently, the chairs driven by the twins have been the only M-V (Miller-Van Sickle) chairs in existence. Now there is a third. Fritz and Jim have built an adult-sized M-V chair, too. It's not only a prototype for the larger size the girls will eventually need for themselves, but it apparently has turned out to be a great "sales tool."

Fritz says sitting in this chair and experiencing first-hand how the girls move around never fails to excite the adults who try it. The amount of control and ease of operation seem to soothe adults' fears about kids injuring themselves while using the chairs.

Fritz and Jim say they're pleased with the present design and performance of the chairs. The next step will be to build a few more chairs for clinical trials, once the necessary funding is found.

Power wheelchairs are considered to be "medical devices," so the M-V Chair will also need FDA approval before manufacture and marketing can occur. Fritz says he has the lengthy application documents in hand but has NOT had the time to study them, fill them out and walk them through the process. "We know motors and machinery and circuitry. Grant-writing and fundraising -- we could use some help with that!"
A: The documentary has its roots in the OPB-produced series OREGON FIELD GUIDE. Eric Cain produced a story several years ago on "Horses For the Physically Challenged," a Scotts Mills group that gets disabled people outdoors on horseback. Some months later, one of the HORSES founders contacted Eric, eager to share a video tape she had received from a family in Alaska.

The tape was home video from the Millers, who had asked for help in finding a special draft horse - one not easily spooked by a wagon - for their daughters. The video showed two happy youngsters buzzing around in a couple of funny looking, incredibly mobile power wheelchairs. Eric was hooked.

From the time the twins were 9-years-old until they reached 13, Eric Cain and Wendy and Lyle Morgan periodically visited and documented the Miller family. When the camera crew was not around, Fritz continued to shoot home video, some of which was incorporated into the finished film.

The documentary premiered on August 20th at 9pm on PBS stations nationwide.
Q:When and how was the Miller's house built?
A: The Miller's house is unique. Their first house burned to its concrete foundation when the girls were toddlers, soon after being diagnosed with SMA. In its place, the paretns built a new one, this time designed to accomodate the twins' special needs. It has evolved into one of the most "wheelchair-accessible" homes anywhere.

This house has no internal doors (except for the bathroom), few walls and lots of big, open spaces. Much of the floor is covered with interlocking rubber barn stall mats, much easier for chairs to move around on than carpet. Fritz cut the dining table from sheet metal and suspended it between two of the house's support posts, with no additional legs to interfere with the chairs. The house has ramps at every entrance, and ramps, not stairs, between the first and second floors. A covered walkway from the second floor leads to the hayloft of the nearby barn, so the girls can feed the horses themselves by pushing hay down through a hole in the loft.

The unusual plastic walls of the house were not part of the original plan. "I tacked up the plastic to keep the weather out while we were building the house, and here, 12 years later, we've just never gotten around to building real walls," says Fritz. The walls are two layers of clear polyethelyne plastic sheeting, kept a couple inches apart by moving air pumped in between. It all makes for a very well-lit home in daylight hours and insulates the house surprisingly well. In winter, the Millers heat their home with a high-efficiency furnace, designed and built by Fritz, which burns used motor oil that he collects from local businesses.