Olympic skier Bode Miller and professional volleyball player Morgan Beck Miller are speaking publicly for the first time about the tragic accident that took their 19-month-old child’s life.
Emeline Grier Miller, known as Emmy, died on June 10 after falling into a neighbor’s swimming pool in Orange County, California.
The Millers are hoping that speaking up about the drowning will help other parents prevent such tragedies from happening to their small children.
“We have the choice to live our days with purpose, to make sure that no other parent has to feel what we’re feeling,” Morgan Miller said in a tearful interview with the “Today” show that aired Monday morning.
She told “Today” that the family would often spend time swimming together in the neighbor’s pool. The day of the accident was “just a normal day,” she said.
The Millers attended a birthday party and visited with friends and grandparents. When they got back home, Bode Miller left to take his elder daughter to a softball game, and Morgan Miller, Emmy and brothers Nate and Nash walked over to their neighbor’s house.
The children played nearby while Morgan Miller relaxed.
“Emmy would go back and forth, which was all of 15 feet. And all of the sudden, it was just too quiet for me,” Morgan Miller said. “We’re in midconversation, and I stood up. And I turned, and I went right to where the boys were, and I said, ‘Where’s Emmy?’”
Morgan Miller said that before they could answer, she turned around and saw that the door to the backyard was cracked open.
“My heart sank, and I opened the door, and she was floating in the pool. And I ran, and I jumped in,” Morgan Miller said.
She started performing CPR on the child while a neighbor called an ambulance. Emmy was rushed to a hospital. She was later pronounced dead.
“Guilt is a very painful thing,” Morgan Miller said. “And even though it’s awful and living with it is terrible and I hope and pray and beg that it gets easier, I am now much more aware in that area to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again.”
Since the tragedy, the Millers said they’ve learned that drowning is a leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 1 to 4 years old. Morgan Miller said she discovered that a child under 30 pounds can drown in 30 seconds.
“I just keep counting the 30 in my head,” she said. “That was all I needed.”
She added that she thinks pediatricians and the public health community should be paying more attention to spreading knowledge about accidental drowning.
“The intensity behind this conversation is where we are lacking,” she said. “This should be the No. 1 thing we talk about.”
Bode Miller said his children’s pediatricians never warned him about the risk.
“I can attest from firsthand experience now that it’s unbelievable quick and it’s unbelievable sneaky,” he said. “You think it’d be some weird circumstance or some strange thing, but it’s not. It just happens in a blink of an eye.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to never leave children alone near open bodies of water or in bathtubs. The organization says a 4-foot-high, unclimbable fence with a self-closing and self-latching gate is the best way to protect children from drowning in a backyard pool. Automated pool covers aren’t an adequate substitute for a well-constructed fence, the AAP states. If the pool is aboveground, it’s important to remove ladders to prevent kids from accessing the pool without adult supervision.
Parents should also learn CPR and keep emergency equipment like life preservers near the pool.
The Millers said that they blocked access to their home pool by installing a fence around it and that the older children had drowning prevention training before Emmy was born.
“I think we did the best with the knowledge that we had,” Morgan Miller said.
Their three other children, the Millers said, have helped them cope with their grief by sharing stories about Emmy and reminding them to be grateful. They are expecting another child this fall.
Bode Miller said they felt an “obligation” to speak up about what had happened to them.
“I think it does, in some way, help to heal a little bit,” he said. “That maybe we’re preventing it from happening to somebody else.”