Amish bride invites Physician Assistant to wedding 10 years after being shot in the heart with a .22-caliber bullet

Amish bride invites Physician Assistant to wedding 10 years after being shot in the heart with a .22-caliber bullet

Michael Nowak PA-C, a Cardiovascular Surgery Physician Assistant at the Mayo Clinic recently went to an Amish wedding in Indiana ten years after helping a little Amish girl from a near-fatal bullet wound injury to her heart.

On May 27, 2003, Leann S. Miller, a 12-year old Amish girl was riding with her family on a horse drawn open wagon when she was shot in the back with a .22-caliber from an unidentified direction.  Her mom Marilyn said the “explosion like noise” caused her to quickly rein in the scared horse.  Initially she thought the wagon’s air tire had blown, but then she noticed her daughter was slumped over and they pulled into the next driveway where relatives resided.  While waiting for paramedics to come, Leann lay under a tree where she became more and more pale and slowly slipped into unconsciousness.  After being stabilized at Goshen General Hospital, Leann was quickly transferred to the Cardiothoracic team at Saint Joseph’s Hospital after an X-ray showed a bullet lodged in her chest.

In South Bend, Indiana, Leann underwent a 3-hour operation where the surgeon removed a .22-caliber bullet from the inside her left ventricle after stopping her heart by placing her on cardio-pulmonary bypass.   Physician Assistant Michael Nowak helped take care of Leann during her postoperative period and said he remembers reading in the newspaper that she was coming back from McDonalds when the accident happened.  He wanted to do something nice for the little girl so that weekend he brought in a breakfast meal from McDonalds as a little comfort food.  Michael said he agrees with Leann’s mom that “Angels must have been present that day to protect Leann”.

A few months later, Michael moved further west when he was recruited to other Cardiothoracic Surgery group, but he remained pen pals with Leann for years.  Michael said “he always enjoyed Christmas time when Leann would send baked goods” and remembered sending her a McDonalds gift card that first year.  He also mentioned how much he enjoyed visiting Leann and her family every few years when driving through her area to visit his family on the east coast”. 

Last month, nearly 10 years after the accident, Michael received another letter from Leann in the mail but this time it had a little something extra in it.  He was excited to see a wedding invitation, and on Wednesday September 11th, 2013 Michael drove 7 hours to join over 300 of Leann’s family and friends, on her special wedding day.

Michael describes the Amish wedding event as

“An amazing and blessed experience.  The mostly Pennsylvanian-Dutch spoken three hour ceremony began at 9am and was followed by 3 different dinners at 3pm, 5pm and 7pm.  Without electricity, nearly 50 women prepared all the food for 3 days.  Any wedding planner could learn a lot from an Amish wedding as at the 5pm dinner around 300 people where plentifully fed, all the dishes were hand washed and place settings refreshed all in only 2 hours before the 7pm dinner.  The meal consisted of the best meat loaf imaginable, potatoes, gravy, vegetables, antipasto, and much more.  Just when you were barely finished, seconds were being passed around.  Then incredible deserts including chocolate pudding, apple pie, mint pie, ice cream, a gelatinous fruit desert (that the kids loved), and for the cherry on top, at the very end, a large bowl of full candy bars was passed around.  When he asked a Amish guest about that custom, he was told kids love to come to weddings just for the candy bar and they call it “one for the road”, usually eating it in their horse drawn buggy on the way home.”

After dinner, Leann’s uncle took Michael to a different Amish family’s house about two miles away who they both also knew.  Three years ago, Michael also helped take care of critically ill Owen Whetstone, an Amish man with chronic cardiac problems who received a Ventricular Assist Device  (like the former Vice President, Dick Chaney) at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  When Michael approached the house he received a big hug from Owen’s wife, who three years ago, spent all 6 weeks three states away at Mayo Clinic, waiting for her husband to recuperate from his big operation.  Michael said “he was glad to see Owen was doing so well and barely recognized him because of all the weight he regained after being so critically sick”.

At 7:30 Michael returned to Leann’s parent’s house to enjoy some of the now 7pm dinner which was mainly for the nearly 150 younger crowd guests.  He was able to spent time talking with Leann’s parents and grandparents and participated in some of the beautiful wedding songs being sung from all the wedding guests.

After staying the night in Goshen, the next morning, Michael and his family went back to visit the new Leann Bontrager, her husband James, and their immediate family at 8am.  “Just like at any other wedding, it is nearly impossible to spend more than a few minutes with the bride, but it was great to have some quiet conversation time with Leann and her family”, Michael said.  They reminisced about the decade old accident and Leann even make gave Michael copies of her newspaper articles she had.  Most important, Michael said he made sure he got Leann’s new address as well as a copy of that incredible wedding meatloaf recipe! 

“It’s amazing to see Leann all grown up and be part of her special day after a horrific event ten year ago near took her life,” Michael said.

Very few non-Amish people can say they have ever attended an Amish wedding and Michael Nowak will probably go down in history as being the ONLY Physician Assistant to have a special friendship with a Amish girl and attend her wedding ten years after she was shot in the heart with a .22-caliber bullet.

Written by Brooke Nowak

Click here to see the article written by the Goshen News: A mended heart is celebrated at wedding

Michael Nowak, PA-C, is passionate about education and is a national lecturer and program director for Certified Medical Educators.  He also works as a Cardiovascular Surgery Physician Assistant at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and as a Family Practice Physician Assistant at the Neighborhood Family Clinic in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  He can be reached at or at PO Box 653 Holmen, Wisconsin, 54636. 

Michael Nowak

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