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After receiving life-saving heart transplant, man becomes heart nurse

Three years after getting a heart transplant, Nate Miller is back on the heart floor at St. Louis Children's Hospital

ST. LOUIS — No one will ever confuse St. Louis Children's Hospital with a dance hall, but on the seventh floor, there is nothing more important than rhythm.

Like many of the patients there, McKenna has a heart rhythm abnormality. Some of these abnormalities are just annoying; others are life-threatening, which is why Nate Miller is here to listen.

"It's important to talk about it. It's important to be upfront," explained Miller.

The 33-year-old is an expert on things like defibrillators and pacemakers.

"Something like getting an ICD or an implantable defibrillator can really be a lifeline for the patients," Miller said.

He became a highly trained electrophysiology nurse by following his heart.

A sportsman all his life, things changed one day after a high school baseball practice.

"Following the workout, I felt like my heart was racing, pounding, beating out of my chest," Miller recalled.

He ended up in the hospital with a scary diagnosis: Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy. A genetic condition that causes an abnormal heartbeat and sometimes sudden death.

"When I was first diagnosed, it was really hard to comprehend the what and the why," he recalled.

But he knew the condition would get worse over time. And 15 years after that first trip to the hospital, Miler went into heart failure and received a heart transplant. 

"I was really sick beforehand," Miller said. "And I don't think I realized how sick I was until the next night. It was easier for me to get out of bed than it was the night before."

Now, less than three years later, he's back on the heart floor.

"I got some really great care from some great people and made me want to try and give back a little bit," he told 5 On Your Side.

And the doctors know no one here can give patients and their families a better heart-to-heart.

"I can't look at a child and say, 'I've been in your shoes and I've walked that mile and this is what it looks like,'" said Dr. Jennifer Silva, Director of Pediatric Electrophysiology. "He can."

Modern medicine and technology help to save lives every day, but Nate Miller brings patients something else. Hope. 

"I think it's singularly the greatest gift we can give them," Dr. Silva said.

One man who knows first hand what it's like to heal a broken heart.

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