Hope Elliott, looking every bit the composed 5-year-old, barely left the bride's side Saturday. Her hand gripped a bit of the white lace train as Dr. Taryn Bragg visited with guests at the reception.
Hope was, after all, one of Bragg's first patients at American Family Children's Hospital last August, and she is one of the happy reasons why the pediatric neurosurgeon's wedding to attorney Josh Bowland took place at the hospital on the steamy afternoon of July 9.
At the reception near the tiny hospital chapel where the vows were spoken, the couple greeted small patients, some hitched to monitors, others recovered. The kids got cupcakes, the punch was non-alcoholic, and Bragg gave out goody bags. Next on the schedule: visiting Bragg's patients in their rooms who were unable to come downstairs.
Hope, who will attend kindergarten in McFarland this fall, declared Bragg looked "cute." The bride glowed.
"They are like my own kids," Bragg said. "My goal is to make kids happy and healthy and to help them live the lives they were meant to live. This is exactly what I wanted. They are a part of my life, and they are a part of my happiness. That's what today was all about."
Bragg was doing an additional year of training in pediatric neurosurgery in Salt Lake City when she turned to an online dating service. Bowland's subscription to eHarmony had about run out, and he'd pretty much forgotten about it, said his mother, Stephanie Bowland of Woodland Hills, Calif.
Bragg spotted Bowland's photo online, they arranged for coffee and have been together ever since, she said. Bragg and Bowland have the same birthday - Aug. 16, 1974. "We feel like we are mirror images of each other," Bragg said.
Bowland was a well-known defense attorney in Salt Lake City. About a year ago, he moved with Bragg to her new job in Madison and started checking out the Dane County courthouse. One day, Bowland talked to Dane County Judge William Hanrahan, who, learning of Bowland's plan to marry Bragg, offered himself as officiant.
So it was that Bragg, Bowland, Hanrahan and an overflow crowd found themselves in the hospital's tiny chapel at the first wedding held at the children's hospital. In lieu of gifts, the couple asked guests to make donations to the children's hospital.
"We really wanted to give back to my patients," said Bragg, who treats brain tumors, congenital malformations, cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, among other ailments. "They teach me so much more than what you can get out of a textbook. Kids want to get better. They are very motivated. They don't have same negativity that adult patients do."
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Take 4-year-old Kaylin Hoernek-Ruff. Bragg operated on the red-haired little girl about nine days before the wedding for a shunt revision. "She was in the ICU for three or four days," said her mother, Kathy. "Now she's attending her surgeon's wedding."
Kaylin's father, David Ruff, was moved. "This is just a tremendous, wonderful thing to do," he said. "To have this (wedding) to benefit the children that she works with is beyond kind. It's unheard of. I was so touched by it."
And don't forget Hope, whose future would likely have included a wheelchair had not Bragg and her colleagues operated.
Born 31/2 months early, Hope weighed 1 pound, 13 ounces at birth. Last year, doctors found a cyst on her spinal cord, among other problems — and the youngster was in the hospital for three weeks.
Bragg grinned at Hope as the reception wore on. "Last August, we operated on her twice to clear a bad infection, and she was a real trooper," the doctor said. "She went through a lot, and it was hard."
Hope's mother hasn't forgotten.
"Dr. Bragg just really made us feel that things were going to be OK - and there were times when we didn't know that things were going to be OK," said Lynne Elliott.
Elliott said her daughter was particularly eager to see the wedding kiss.
"It was long day today waiting for 4 o'clock to come around."