By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Ten years ago, Leann S. Miller of Goshen had a bullet lodged in the left ventricle of her heart.
Doctors along with physician’s assistant Michael Nowak at St. Joseph Medical Center in South Bend performed cardiothoracic surgery on the heart of the 12-year-old Amish girl.
Nowak befriended her and the family while she was in the hospital, he said.
Now 10 years later, Nowak drove from Wisconsin to Goshen to attend Leann’s wedding and meet the man, James Bontrager, who stole her heart and became her husband Wednesday.
“I thought this was a unique story to tell. She was very lucky. If the bullet had been an inch over, it would have killed her,” Nowak said, during a phone interview. “We’ve kept in touch over the years writing back and forth and I’ve stopped over (at the family home in Goshen) every two years or so.”
According to a story in The Goshen News, Leann was shot in the back with a single .22 round bullet Tuesday May, 27, 2003 around 2:50 p.m. as she was riding in an open horse-drawn wagon driven by her mother, Marilyn E. Miller, near 60113 C.R. 35, Goshen, north of C.R. 126.
After the three-hour surgery, Nowak said he found out the family was on their way home from McDonald’s before the incident and decided to do something special during her stay in the hospital.
“I brought her in a McDonald’s breakfast meal that Sunday morning,” he said, laughing. “I had never eaten there (at McDonald’s) before. She was a little girl stuck in a hospital and I wanted to do something. The whole family was there in South Bend, too.”
He’s sent a special gift on occasion in his correspondence during the past decade.
“I would send her McDonald’s gift cards over the years,” Nowak said.
In the story dated May 28, 2003, according to Elkhart County police, Leann S. Miller was riding behind her mother, facing the rear of the wagon on the right side when she was struck from an unidentified direction.
Police said Marilyn E. Miller reported she heard a loud noise which spooked the horse. When Marilyn was able to regain control of the horse, she reportedly heard her daughter moaning behind her. There were two other passengers in the wagon at the time of the shooting.
The Miller family told Nowak that Leann doesn’t remember much of what happened right after she was shot.
“They say she never truly passed out but stayed awake for the most part. Now she’s getting married today,” said Nowak, who’s currently a PA-C at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
He described the Amish wedding.
“It was really unique. They had a three-hour church service and then they served dinner at three different times, 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. for more than 300 guests — talk about a well-oiled machine. They had 60 people washing dishes by hand. There were 50 women who had cooked for three days prior to the wedding. The food was phenomenal. They had so much food. I ate the best meatloaf I’ve ever tasted and asked for the recipe. They served seconds soon after the first go-around. There were at least 12 different types of desserts.”
Nowak said he was looking forward to visiting with the family after the wedding.
And the final sentence in the story on May 28 said Leann was taken to Goshen General Hospital (now IU Health Goshen Hospital) and was then transported to St. Joseph Medical Center (now Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka) where hospital officials said she is in fair condition.
“She’s so, so lucky,” Nowak said.