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West Lincoln senior paints shoes for autonomic research donations

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    Erica Miller
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    - Erica Miller
    Erica Miller has painted about 75 pairs of shoes and raised more than $1,500.
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Less than a year ago, Erica Miller, 17, didn’t know Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) existed.

Now it’s changed her entire world. For starters, painting shoes is her big new hobby.

Erica’s shoe clients pay her in donations to the National Autonomic Research Center. Since August, she’s painted about 75 pairs, mostly Keds, and raised more than $1,500.

Erica, ranked first in her senior class at West Lincoln High, just began painting shoes this summer. Until this February, she had excelled in dance, cheerleading and track.

But on Feb. 4, she fainted at school and eventually was diagnosed with POTS. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website describes the condition as involving “an excessively reduced volume of blood (that) returns to the heart after an individual stands up from a lying down position,” which causes dizziness and fainting, and can rapidly increase heartbeat.

The condition isn’t fatal, but similar to living with congestive heart failure, Erica said. After her February episode, she was bedridden for a couple of weeks and barely had energy to make a trip to the bathroom, much less track or cheerleading practice.

Erica recently visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for treatment and also got to see where her money goes toward research.

“She’s just a very kindhearted person,” said Tammy Johnson, West Lincoln’s media specialist. Johnson said she was named as “best all-around” for senior superlatives.

The shoe idea sprang from boredom: While she was at home in July unable to do much, her father gave her a paint kit. Instead of painting on the paper he gave her, Erica grabbed a plain pair of Keds and painted Mickey Mouse on them.

Then her friends started asking for painted shoes and asked what she was charging.

Erica doesn’t charge a specific amount, but will take whatever the client decides to give. “It just makes me feel like I’ve actually done something, to know the money I’m donating is going to research,” she said.

Erica now has a Facebook page, “Hot for Pots – Lincoln County Apple Queen 2013,” where people can send her messages and place orders for shoes.

She buys white Keds in bulk and has painted themes ranging from “The Cat in the Hat” to the Carolina Panthers to Harry Potter to various floral designs. Her most popular request is school-spirit-themed shoes for West Lincoln students.

Erica said her progress is slow, but she improves with each month. Her ability to be active is limited – she’s disappointed she’s not allowed to drive – but she has returned to cheering at football games (and keeps an extra mat as a cushion below her in case of a dizzy or fainting episode).

As her Facebook page suggests, Erica was crowned Lincoln County Apple Queen at the annual Lincoln County Apple Festival this August. She spoke about POTS in the interview segment of the competition. With the title, she won a $3,000 scholarship.

Erica said having POTS was life-changing, and influenced what she wants to do: She hopes to someday research autonomic dysfunction to help find a cure.

POTS has come with its life lessons, too.

“I’ve gotten a handicap sticker, and the looks people give you when you get out of the car – some of them look at you like they’re disgusted, and before, I would’ve done the same thing,” she said. “This has taught me you can’t judge people’s appearances, and a lot of people are going through stuff that you can’t tell just by looking at them.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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