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Family of Larry H. Miller donates $5.3M to University of Utah to fight diabetes

SALT LAKE CITY — The grandson of the late Larry H. Miller choked up Monday as he described what is was like as a teenager to witness the effects of the diabetes that took the life of the man who raised him.

Miller's death in 2009 was "needless" because he didn't take care of himself, Zane Miller said during a University Hospital event to announce a $5.3 million gift from the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation to fight the deadly disease.

"I felt helpless when it came to his health," Zane Miller said, recalling futile attempts to influence his grandfather by choosing a healthy meal and skipping sodas when they ate out. "Unfortunately, Larry wouldn't listen until it was too late."

The final two years of Larry H. Miller's life were "incredibly difficult," his grandson, 28, said. The late car dealer and Utah Jazz owner suffered a heart attack as well as kidney failure and other problems associated with gout and Type 2 diabetes.

A month before his death in February 2009 at age 64, both of Larry H. Miller's legs were amputated 6 inches below the knee because his feet were damaged by infection and diabetic ulcers.

Watching his grandfather struggle against the deadly disease, Zane Miller said he realized "despite his courage, none of this would have been necessary if (he) would have taken his health seriously."

The Miller family's gift to the university is intended to "take diabetes head-on," said Dr. Lorris Betz, interim senior vice president for health sciences at the U.

Betz said diabetes is on the rise in Utah, across the nation and around the world.

There are 142,000 Utahns with diabetes, he said, making it one of the leading chronic diseases. Betz said uncontrolled diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and limb amputation, and a major cause of heart disease and stroke.

Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States, where about 10 percent of the population — more than 30 million people — suffer from high blood glucose.

Betz cited studies that have shown about $1 of every $5 spent on health care goes toward treating diabetes or its complications, costing the country about $245 billion annually, including $1 billion in Utah.

The Miller family's new "Driving Out Diabetes" wellness initiative will focus on prevention and outreach, including screening services to vulnerable populations, clinical care, and research and training.

Details of the outreach program are expected to be announced in the spring.

Gail Miller, who wiped away tears as her grandson spoke, said diabetes isn't a solitary ordeal.

"It affects everyone who is involved with that person and beyond," she said. "Larry loved serving people. He loved doing things that made a difference."

That's what she hopes the initiative will do for those suffering from diabetes or at risk of contracting the disease, Gail Miller said, adding that she's proud the U. "would take this difficult journey to try to eradicate diabetes."

She recalled a conversation she and her husband had while he was hospitalized at the U.

"He said, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone would go about doing good until there was too much good in the world?' Maybe he had a precursor to what we're doing today."