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Bode Miller and his wife, Morgan, continue to grieve over the drowning of their 19-month-old daughter, but the couple have opened up about the tragedy’s painful details to prevent similar heartbreak from striking other parents.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't pray for the opportunity to go back to that day and make it different. But now we have this opportunity to make other parents' days different," an emotional Morgan Miller told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie in the couple’s first public interview since the accident.
"We have the choice to live our days with purpose, to make sure that no other parent has to feel what we're feeling."
The Millers lost their youngest child, Emeline “Emmy” Miller, on June 10 after she fell into a neighbor's pool. The morning before she died started just like most others.
“It was a normal day. Every morning, the kids would go swimming and Bode would go swimming with them, and they'd be in there for hours. And they loved it,” Morgan said.
The family then headed out to a birthday party before Morgan and Emmy spent the afternoon visiting with friends and grandparents. They returned home to say goodbye to Bode before he took his oldest daughter to her softball game.
"He was loading up the car when we got back and I gave him a kiss. And out of nowhere, she (Emmy) leaned over and gave him another kiss. And we were so amused by her reaction because it was not typical of Emmy,” Morgan recalled tearfully. “So I kissed him again and she did it again and we laughed. Then I turned around and I walked inside and she waved and said bye to her Dad.”
Morgan then walked her kids next door to visit with their neighbors.
"We go over, back and forth, multiple times a week. They're family to us,” she said. “And it was just a normal day over there. We sat on the sofa and she played in front of us.”
Morgan sipped tea while the boys played nearby.
“And Emmy would go back and forth, which was all of 15 feet. And all of the sudden, it was just too quiet for me,” Morgan recalled. “We're in mid-conversation and I stood up. And I turned and I went right to where the boys were and I said ‘Where's Emmy?’”
But Morgan knew before anyone answered.
“Before Nate could respond, I turned around and the door that leads to the back yard, that was closed, had this tiny sliver of light coming through the side,” Morgan said. “And my heart sank and I opened the door and she was floating in the pool. And I ran and I jumped in."
Morgan pulled Emmy out of the water and started CPR while her neighbor called 911. An ambulance rushed the baby to the hospital.
Doctors initially told the Millers that their daughter might survive, but the outlook soon changed.
“The doctor said her brain had just not had enough oxygen for too long of a time," Bode said.
In their grief, the couple learned that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children 1- to 4-years old.
"It's the number one way that you could potentially lose your kid. If it's number one for me, I want to know about it,” Bode said.
"I've been to all the pediatrician's meetings and check-ups on our kids. And I can't say it's come up one time. Not a single time."
The Millers had already enrolled their older children in drowning prevention classes and installed a fence around their pool before moving into their own home. They did everything they thought they were supposed to do.
“Guilt is a very painful thing,” Morgan said. “And even though it's awful and living with it is terrible, and I hope and pray and beg that it gets easier, I am now much more aware in that area to make sure it doesn't ever happen again."
The couple now try to move forward with a mission to help others to be more vigilant, in memory of Emmy.
"She was just a bear. She had such a powerful bull-like personality where she just did what she wanted,” Bode said.
They say their three other children help guide them through their darkest moments.
"When they talk about her and share stories, they always have a smile on their face,” Morgan said. “And they constantly remind us we're still here. And it allows us to bring our focus back to the things we still have to be incredibly grateful for."
The couple are expecting another child this fall, a blessing that brings mixed emotions.
"That was my first concern," Morgan said. "Besides the fact of never being able to see my daughter again, it was, every time, how am I supposed to bring a new baby into this world without — with just losing my baby?"
Emmy had looked forward to being a big sister, her mother recalled.
"She walked around all the time with her baby. And now we have the opportunity to get to love that baby not only for ourselves, but for Emmy,” Morgan said. "She was such a bright light and she was determined."
Bode said it wasn’t an easy decision to open up about such a recent loss.
"It's an obligation to some degree,” he said. “I think it does, in some way, help to heal a little bit. That maybe we're preventing it from happening to somebody else.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges parents to "never — even for a moment — leave children alone near open bodies of water, such as lakes or swimming pools, nor near water in homes (bathtubs, spas)," the group said on its website.
"Parents should learn CPR and keep a telephone and emergency equipment (i.e., life preservers) at poolside."
AAP also suggests that every home pool be surrounded by a fence to prevent a child from unsupervised access from the house. The group warns that “there is no substitute for at least a four-foot-high, nonclimbable, four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate.”