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Child's death inspires new career, book

'Better, Not Bitter' details tragedy, and living life afterward

Dec. 21, 2011

It's easy to focus on the sadness in De Anna Komppa's story - her daughter's death from a rare illness, battles with insurance companies and uncertainties about an experimental double transplant.

But it's the inspiration she took from those dark days that propelled Komppa to write a book about her experience, which led her not only to go to nursing school, but also to work in the same area at Children's Hospital where she spent so many days with her daughter, Tiffany.

"You have to take the good out of the bad. It made my life better, not bitter. I wanted to share the story and hopefully inspire people," said Komppa, who wrote "Better, Not Bitter - The Tiffany Miller Story."

That story began on Mother's Day 1988. De Anna was 21, a first-time mom. Tiffany was 4 days old.

Back then, Komppa didn't know anything about bile. But she knew something was wrong if her baby was throwing up green.

Within hours, Tiffany was in surgery. Doctors needed to remove much of her small intestine.

The procedure saved her life, but left the tiny girl unable to feed normally.

"They put in a feeding tube, like for patients with stomach cancer," explained Komppa, now 45 and living in Racine County.

"Short term, it's a great thing. It can get you through when you can't eat. Long term - and I hooked her up to it every single day of her life - it's almost like an alcoholic. There's so much sugar in it, it kills your liver. It leads to cirrhosis."

That damage left Tiffany facing a double transplant - one for her liver and another for her bowel, which insurance companies refused to cover because it was considered experimental. And without insurance coverage, or at least $500,000 to cover the operation, Komppa couldn't even get Tiffany on the transplant list.

That's when the Milwaukee-area community stepped up, raising nearly $700,000 for little Tiffany.

Although Tiffany died in 1995, Komppa said that outpouring later carried her emotionally through years of school and buoyed her toward her work as a registered nurse at Children's Hospital.

The book, published this summer and available online, is Komppa's way of saying thanks.

"It doesn't matter how long ago it was, I want people to know that I still think about it and I'm still thankful …" she said. "I wanted to share the story and hopefully inspire people."

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