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Minn. Mom's Death May Be Tied To Iraq Burn Pits

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Amie Muller lived a courageous life full of service and sacrifice.

The 36-year-old married mother of three died Feb. 18 after bravely battling pancreatic cancer.

"Jace keeps saying to me every night, 'I wish we could have a second chance to save Mommy.' And, you know, wants to fly to heaven in his Batman cape and bring her back," said Brian Muller, Amie's husband.

Brian calls Amie an incredibly-loving mother. Her children -- Caidyn, Jace and EmmyLu -- were her world.

Her gifts extended well beyond her family. She was someone who could make everyone feel important, and so many called her their best friend.

A "burn pile" in Iraq (credit: CBS)

"She always, no matter what, made people feel like they were the only person in the room," Brian said.

She did that while serving our country, originally with the Air Force and then with the Air National Guard.

"When you think about people that serve our country, you think about somebody that believes in America and believes in fighting for our freedom, and she was one of those people," Brian said.

During her 18 years in the military, Amie was a military photojournalist, often documenting the funerals of fallen soldiers.

She spearheaded a program to create videos and pictures for families who lost a loved one. And she designed the Gold Star memorial license plate to commemorate Minnesota's fallen heroes.

"When you have a servant's heart, you have a servant's heart," Brian said. "She just always wanted to do something more."

Doctors diagnosed Amie with stage three pancreatic cancer last April. She approached treatment like everything else in her life: with bravery and courage.

"We did the best we could. We fought with one of the most aggressive chemo regiments you can have," Brian said.

In February, the time doctors believed she had left went from months, to weeks, to mere days.

"We just weren't ready. We weren't ready. We were going to make videos for the kids, but she kept fighting," Brian said.

The Mullers believe Amie's diagnosis is linked to her time in the Air National Guard. She did two tours in Iraq, in 2005 and 2007. And during that time she was exposed to toxic burn pits -- where it's documented that chemicals, paint, aluminum cans, munitions, petroleum, among other things, were constantly burned.

"Environmental, that's the biggest cause of cancer, so there's no question that a 36 year old with pancreatic cancer, with no history of pancreatic cancer in her family, that had to be related," Brian said.

During her journey, Amie had the strength to stand up for veterans who were also exposed. She worried the answers will come too late for many.

"My dedication to her is to honor that and to keep that story alive and make sure that veterans get taken care of," Brian said.

His dedication to her will also be to see through what Amie wanted in life for their kids.

"They don't completely understand that we're never going to see her again, but I just tell them that Mommy will always be with them, always be in their hearts," Brian said.

The average patient diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is twice Amie's age.

There is now a national registry for veterans to document their exposures and concerns. More than 100,000 veterans have signed up.

So far, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said there is no evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.

Last month, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill to better understand the possible health effects.

Brian has started the Amie Muller Foundation in her honor to raise money for veterans affected by pancreatic cancer.

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