(WJLA) - A Leesburg, Va. family stood with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday as he signed a bill inspired by the passionate mission of a 10-year-old girl before her death.
Mark and Elyn Miller of Ashburn are the parents of 10-year-old Gabriella Miller, who died in October as a result of a large tumor discovered in her brain in November 2012.
The fatal tumor was about the size of a walnut, so Gabriella and her family took a " make lemonade" approach and started the Smashing Walnuts Foundation to raise awareness and money for childhood cancer research.
Mark Miller said in her final days, his daughter mustered all her energy and called on political leaders to take action. But Gabriella feared her mission would not be followed through:
"If I lose my battle then I'm going to want other people to carry on with the war...And they're going to win this war," she had said.
Fortunately, her words got the attention of some very powerful people.
"If you've not seen the Youtube videos of Gabriella, please recommend your viewers to them -- they are something, bring a tear to anyone's eye," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Cantor, despite a gridlocked Congress, helped pass a bill directing $126 million to pediatric disease research.
"From a family that lost a child to cancer and from a host of kids that I took into the Oval Office with us -- kids that have died from cancer, kids that are fighting cancer -- $126 million means an awful lot to them," said Gabriella's father, Mark Miller.
Before she died, Gabriella wrote a letter to the president. In it she implored him to support the cause of so many suffering children:
"But here we are, us kids, living that nightmare waiting for a cure."
But the letter was never delivered until today.
The president got a copy and signed the original, telling the family that more can and should be done.
"This is what she wanted, was to get in front of a president and let him know that childhood cancer is killing children of his country -- yet she wasn't here to be able to do that personally," said her mother, Ellyn Miller.
President Obama remarked at the signing on Thursday:
It is a great honor to be here to sign the Gabriella Miller “Kids First” Research Act. And I want to talk about Gabriella, who is the young girl that this bill is named after.
When Gabriella, a beautiful, fun-loving, smart young lady, was nine years old, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor about the size of a walnut. And she was tough, and she knew that she had to fight it, and one of the ways that she did was to -- it was about the size of a walnut, so she smashed walnuts. And sometimes I’ll bet you might have helped out. And she fought the good fight.
And Gabriella didn’t make it, and she’s in a better place, but her parents, Mark and Ellyn, along with her little brother, Jake, as well as a coalition of outstanding legislators -- Republicans and Democrats, standing behind me -- as well as advocates, decided that in her memory we needed to make sure that we get more money into research for the National Institute of Health so that we can know more about brain tumors, how they affect children relative to adults, what more we can do to make sure that the pain that the Miller family went through is not something that has to be repeated.
And so what this legislation is going to do is it’s going to put millions of additional dollars into that research. We’re going to need some cooperation from Congress to continue to work on a bipartisan basis to actually allocate those dollars in an effective way. I know that NIH is very eager to work on these pediatric cancers -- because obviously nothing is more challenging for a family than to go through something like this, and there’s more we can do for them.
So I want to thank all the legislators who are standing behind me here today. I want to thank all the advocates who are here with us today. I especially want to thank the Miller family for being here. It’s such a wonderful way to remember a wonderful girl.
The bill will redirect the funds over the next 10 years from presidential party conventions to fund pediatric disease research, and the money will go into a fund at the National Institute of Health.
"Her message, her powerful message she was able to give two weeks before she died, helped impact a lot of people who this legislation could help put a face to the issue," Mark Miller said of his daughter.
Mark adds that Gabriella would be grateful for the effort of lawmakers.
She would also make good use of her time in the White House, he added, if she were still alive to be there with them today for the bill signing.
"She'd be in awe of it, but wouldn't be taken aback," he said. "She would say, 'I like what you've done with the place, and I'll make some changes when I'm here in 30 years."