Monica Miles was always close with her cousins. They grew up in New England, all within a couple of hours’ drive. As kids, she and her cousin Troy Pappas spent a lot of time together at the family lake house, especially on the Fourth of July. They would go tubing, play board games and sometimes toss the football.
So in 2012, when Troy, a football player at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, died suddenly at age 18 in a freak fall on campus, 16-year-old Miles was crushed. She never imagined that any good could come from Troy’s death – until she learned he was an organ donor and she met one of the recipients whose life had been changed. Most importantly, she saw the comfort and closure the experience seemed to give Troy’s parents. “In that moment I realized how important organ donation was,” Miles says, “both to the recipient and the donor’s family.”
Two years later, when Miles moved from Maine to study medicine and play field hockey at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, she still carried her cousin’s memory − both on her back, choosing Troy’s No. 8 for her jersey, and in her thoughts. She discovered Vermont had one of the country’s lowest rates of registered organ donors per capita. And she turned to her new Purple Knight teammates for help.
In April, National Donate Life Month, her teammates set up tables and laptops in front of the campus dining hall for a weeklong drive to sign up students to be donors. They also passed out literature from Donate Life Vermont, a charity that raises awareness of tissue, eye and organ donation. “I could not have done it without my team,” Miles says. “If it was just me, the odds of anyone stopping are worse. Combined, we probably know everyone on campus.”
Her teammates not only helped to man the tables, put up posters, hand out fliers and get the word out through social networks, but they also gave Miles moral support. “It’s a sore spot for me,” she says. “They all understand why.”
“Monica arrived just after the incident. It was a difficult situation,” says Saint Michael’s field hockey coach Carla Hesler. “Being around the team really helped her feel safe and supported during her adjustment to college.”
Hesler says Miles reciprocates by helping the team promote other causes, such as breast cancer and cystic fibrosis awareness. And now, as a senior, Miles leads by example in academic life, as well. She’s majoring in biochemistry with plans to go on to medical school and is focusing her studies on kidney damage from chronic disease. In the summer, Miles worked in the Harvard Medical School Summer Research Program in Kidney Medicine.
“Kidneys are the most commonly transplanted organ,” Miles says. “The kidneys always go first. We’re looking to eliminate the need for a transplant.”
This season, Miles returns to the field on defense for the Purple Knights, and in April her teammates will reunite to hold their third annual organ donation awareness drive. Together, in the first two years, they’ve signed up almost 100 new donors. And in the process, the team also has helped Miles come to terms with her loss. “They are there for me for sure,” she says. “Troy would’ve done the same thing.”