A powerhouse in transfusion medicine, Dr. Yvette Miller is helping to shape clinical practices, broaden awareness and understanding into the plights of those living with sickle cell disease and how blood donors who are Black can help. With a long-distinguished career at the American Red Cross, she serves as the executive medical officer of the donor and client support center in Charlotte, North Carolina. A fierce advocate for leading critical conversations on structural racism and its impact on the social determinants of health, Dr. Miller is Black excellence. Yet, what others may view as Black excellence, the recent Richard J. Davey, M.D. Lectureship Award recipient simply considers her divine purpose.
“I feel like my life has been divinely inspired to do the work that I do,” said Dr. Miller. “Even as a child, I always knew I wanted to be a doctor and I readily understood what my calling was when I joined the American Red Cross. Advocating for increasing blood donations in the Black community and focusing on the transfusion needs of patients with sickle cell disease – that’s my calling.”
Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Dr. Miller knew at 11 years old she might want to become a Red Crosser someday. She and her family lived in one of the first predominately Black middle-class neighborhoods and would often pass by the Winston-Salem Red Cross office on her way to school.
“One day, I asked my mother: what is the Red Cross and what do they do there,” said Dr. Miller. “She told me: ‘you know, they help save people’s lives, they collect blood . . . they help people when they have housefires or when there’s a disaster.’ And so, that’s how I first became interested in working for the Red Cross.”
As a child, Dr. Miller’s passion to study medicine was ignited by her mother’s career path in nursing and her father who was a physical education instructor at Winston-Salem Teachers College. For many years, her father suffered from an unhealed wound on his left hand, obtained from a burn injury while serving in the Korean War. He later developed osteogenic sarcoma, a cancer of the bone. Although his arm was eventually amputated, the cancer had already spread to other parts of his body.
“One day I was in my father's room snooping, and I looked at his medical chart, and saw that his diagnosis was ‘osteogenic sarcoma’ and his life expectancy was ‘terminal’,” said Dr. Miller. “There were always a bunch of medical books around our house that I read, so I knew the word ‘terminal’ meant that he was not going to recover. He died the summer I was going to the ninth grade, and it had a tremendous impact on me. I really got interested in learning as much as I could about cancer, and that’s why I began thinking about medical school.”
Making an Impact
After graduating high school and earning her undergraduate degree in nursing from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Dr. Miller worked at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem and volunteered as a blood donor and CPR instructor with the Red Cross while preparing for medical school.
“I had no doubt that I was going to medical school, because I felt like it was my legacy to my family . . . to my father,” said Dr. Miller. “The promise of being a doctor, helping people when they were at some of the lowest points in their lives – that's what I wanted my legacy to be, and I knew that nursing gave me the skills I needed to be a good physician.”
During her residency, Dr. Miller fell in love with blood banking, the importance of understanding and preventing complications related to sickle cell disease and providing blood products for this patient population. As a resident at UT Southwestern Medical Center, she garnered experience with finding compatible blood units for a set of twins who had sickle cell disease and needed closely matched blood transfusions. Inspired by her ability to support diverse communities through transfusion medicine, she chose to complete two of her medical rotations at Charles Drew University in Los Angeles, CA “to be in the midst of Black excellence”.
“When I was growing up, we always talked about Dr. Charles R. Drew during Black History Month, so I knew his history as a child,” said Dr. Miller. “It resonated with me that this man worked to ensure there was Black excellence among physicians. He was on his way to teach African American medical residents at an annual medical conference in Tuskegee, Alabama when he was injured in a car accident about an hour and a half away from where I lived in Winston-Salem, and later died. I respected him, and I felt that his spirit was always part of me. . .that I was going to be his legacy in the American Red Cross to carry on what he could not carry on. I always felt that.”
Standing on the legacies of Dr. Drew and her parents – John Xavier “X” Miller, Sr., and Betty Faison Miller – Dr. Yvette Miller is this generation’s steward of the “global house of humanity” who knows how to get into “good trouble,” as the late congressman John Lewis would say. With compassion and understanding, she is a disruptor of unjust systems that add unfair rounds to the fight of sickle cell warriors. Her courageous advocacy for the blood needs of the sickle cell community reflects divine purpose and often reminds all who she encounters, the excellence to speak up and roll up a sleeve for others is deep within them as well.
Black Excellence is In Our Blood
Join Dr. Miller in the fight to help patients who have sickle cell disease and other needs by rolling up a sleeve to give blood during Black History Month. Use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org/OurBlood, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to schedule an appointment today.
Those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma Feb. 1-28, 2023, will receive a $10 Amazon.com Gift Card by email, thanks to our partners at Amazon. Join us in elevating Black Excellence this month: Discover and support Black-owned businesses on Amazon! Additionally, those who come to give Feb. 1-28, 2023, will be automatically entered for a chance to win a three-night trip to Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Terms apply for both offers. Visit rcblood.org/heart for details.