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Keith Johnson
Utah Jazz: Miller granted 'second life'

Larry H. Miller almost died four times in the past two months — including twice just last week — from what he described as a "serious heart attack" and a host of other type 2 diabetes-related ailments.

There was even one time during his now-completed 59-day hospital stay that a "discouraged" Miller asked his doctor "to take me out in the west desert and leave me" after bleeding gastrointestinal ulcers required two surgeries and eight pints of blood to repair. That was the lowest of many low points.

His doctor, fortunately, didn't grant the request.

Those near-death experiences and life-battling struggles that the recuperating Jazz owner had to endure — including kidney failure, a complete loss of lower-body strength and perhaps permanent damage to his left hand — helped turn a trip he did make Friday into a sweet moment to savor.

Four days after his last operation, the 64-year-old Miller finally got to go home.

"It was really neat just getting into the car at the hospital, knowing that I was going home," Miller said at a press conference Friday afternoon at EnergySolutions Arena in his first public appearance since the ordeal began. "And as we pulled into the driveway, it was pretty emotional."

"Pleased, relaxed and grateful" were words an improving Miller used to describe how he felt about returning to his own home after the two-month scare that began when he suffered a heart attack on June 10.

That's opposed to his lengthy and tough hospitalization, which he called "the most physically challenging time of my life."

Miller, whose medical condition has been kept under wraps by his staff, first received a pacemaker to help him heal and deal with his condition. However, his body didn't respond to it well, so he required a surgery — the first of three — to put two stents in his heart two days later. That procedure was done at the risk of damaging his kidneys, which were in serious danger of needing permanent dialysis to function properly. But after weeks, Miller somehow defied medical odds and cleared that hurdle.

"I could go to another realm and explain what happened, but doctors couldn't," Miller said.

In other words, Miller believes he was on the receiving end of a miracle.

Miller lost weight in the hospital along with strength but — as became evident in the 1 1/2-hour press conference — not his gift for gab nor his tendency to tear up. He uses a wheelchair and walker and can walk on his own a bit now but can't go up even a single stair yet.

What Miller expects will be "intense therapy" at home should rectify that, Miller believes, and have him walking "normal again" in the next six to eight weeks. He hopes to attend the Jazz games for the upcoming season as he always has — down front and center. His role, however, will be vastly different, seeing as he handed over the CEO reins of the Jazz and his entire business empire to his oldest son, Greg, last month. He promised not to look over his son's shoulder in the process.

The 42-year-old Greg Miller, who sat next to his dad on the dais, spoke little at Friday's conference but called it "a very exciting day."

"On a personal note, it's a red-letter day," he said. "We're happy to have him back."

After teetering on the edge of mortality multiple times, Miller said he feels like he has "a clean slate" for the future. He promises it won't be as busy as the past in which he would often spend between 70-90 hours away from home dealing with his sports businesses (the Jazz, the Salt Lake Bees and Miller Motorsports Park) along with his movie theaters, car dealerships, etc.

"I almost feel like it's a second life," he said.

Miller admitted he was "paying the price" for not taking good care of his health over the years, but he vowed to change his diet and lifestyle in order to keep improving his health.

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"I'm excited about the future," he said.

Miller said he got tired of getting poked, prodded and shot hundreds of times and being asked the same question dozens of times each day. While he won't have as much of that now, his doctor did give him a check-up call on Friday.

"We had been home about an hour-and-a-half and the doctor called and said, 'How's he doing?"' said Gail Miller, who sat next to her husband Friday.

"I said, 'Are you missing him?' He said, 'Well, it will be different around here without him."'

A similar thought many in the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies and around the state have been thinking since June.


E-mail: jody@desnews.com