The morning of May 26th, 2012, proved to be an enjoyable and leisurely start to Memorial Day weekend for Ron Klein. He and his wife Suzanne, owners of Windshadow Farm and Dairy in Bangor, Michigan, attended a pancake breakfast hosted by Bangor Community Fire Department. As they sat among friends who were part of the EMS system, Ron couldn’t have known how desperately he would need their help later that day.
Windshadow is home to over 50 dairy goats, whose milk is used for cheese production and sold to various vendors. Water buffalo were a natural addition to the farm in 2008, because their milk creates a “very exquisite” cheese, according to Ron. Over the years, the Kleins expanded their herd through breeding and through purchase of additional animals. By May of 2012, the herd had grown to include 12 heifer calves, 18 mature water buffalo, and a 4-year-old, 1600-pound bull named Leoben. According to Ron, water buffalo are intelligent and docile animals when they are handled and milked regularly, as were the buffalo at his farm. Leoben had never shown aggressive tendencies, but Ron always gave the bull due respect, and even felt he had a special relationship with the animal.
After the Kleins returned home from their outing, Ron went to the pasture around 3:30 p.m. to let the calves out. The calves inadvertently took a wrong turn into an area where the older water buffalo were grazing. Ron followed to retrieve the calves, something he had done many times before, but this time they bolted away from him. Ron recalls thinking their behavior was odd, when suddenly his herd of adult buffalo came rushing toward him over the crest of a hill. Some animals at the head of the stampede managed to avoid Ron, but he was soon knocked to the ground. As he rolled away from the herd his left arm was stepped on. Ron got to his feet and reasoned this was a one-time accident. The adult buffalo were simply playing chase with the calves and didn’t see him in time. His left arm was in severe pain, however, and Ron headed away from the herd toward the fence.
That’s when everything turned terrifying. Ron’s beloved bull, Leoben, suddenly and violently slammed into him from behind, throwing him to the ground. According to Ron, the bull repeatedly “just kept coming at me” pushing his head into Ron trying to pin him down. When Ron managed to stand the bull lowered his head, hooked his horn into Ron’s belt and whipped Ron from side to side “like a rag doll”. The belt finally broke and Ron was thrown over Leoben’s back onto the ground. Ron stood up only to be charged at again and again. Leoben was in a frenzy and his attack was unrelenting. Every time Leoben ran at him, Ron attempted to step to the side or push himself off and away. He struck and kicked at the bull’s sensitive eyes and nose trying to create an opportunity to escape. During the attack, which seemed to “go on forever” to Ron, he was getting closer and closer to the fence. Again Leoben managed to grab Ron’s shirt with his horn, tossing him into the air. When Ron landed the wind was knocked out of him and he was in horrible pain. He knew he was bleeding through his shirt but was unsure of the extent of his injuries. Just before the attack ended, Leoben grabbed Ron’s shirt collar with his horn and began running, choking Ron and eventually ripping his shirt. Ron threw the shirt over the bull’s eyes while continuing to fight back at the animal. Suddenly, several other buffalo reappeared and seemed to make a shield with their bodies between Ron and Leoben, allowing Ron to eventually make his way to a nearby brush pile and then to the fence where he escaped the pasture. The attack was over and Ron had survived, but he was alone and far from help. No one had seen or heard the attack. It was up to him to make it all the way back to the house.
As Ron walked slowly along the fence line, he encouraged himself to keep moving by talking and singing. Most of his body had sustained tremendous blunt force trauma. He walked nearly a third of a mile despite severe pain to his shoulder, ribs, pelvis, groin, thighs, and lower legs. He was also bleeding profusely from his left armpit. As he approached his house he was met by his startled wife, Suzanne, who helped him into the car and drove him to a neighbor’s home for help. Mike Sullins, a neighboring farmer, immediately took action. He applied pressure to Ron’s bleeding armpit and called 911. Ron’s good friend, Derek Babcock, who is the Bangor Fire Chief and a Medical First Responder also arrived, followed by Coloma EMS. Paramedic Isaac Billings and his partner, EMT Nate Bemis, made the decision along with Derek, Ron, and Suzanne, that Ron should be transported to a trauma center as soon as possible for evaluation of his injuries, because his blood pressure was dangerously low.
As West Michigan Air Care was activated, Ron was fully immobilized and given oxygen and pain medication. He was transported to South Haven Hospital and met by ER physician Dr. Paul Wahby and many staff members. X-ray’s were performed on Ron’s chest and pelvis and he was given additional pain medication. Air Care arrived and quickly prepared Ron for transfer to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. Air Care’s flight crew included Flight Nurses Robert Mayberry, RN, Sara Sturgeon, RN, and Pilot Krystian Zygowiec. The medical crew completed an assessment without delay and moved Ron into the aircraft. Ron’s vital signs, which had returned to normal, were monitored closely. He was given pain medication throughout the flight to keep him comfortable. When Ron arrived at Bronson’s Trauma and Emergency Center, he was admitted under the care of Trauma Surgeon Dr. Sheldon Maltz who examined the severe, deep, soft tissue bruising over much of Ron’s body.
“I was black and blue from my waist to my ankles,” said Ron. Amazingly, he had no broken bones! Ron was taken to surgery to explore the large gash that Leoben’s horn had made in his armpit. On Monday morning Ron returned to surgery to have the wound closed. He was placed on an antibiotic regimen to prevent infection of the wound and allowed to go home later on Monday, May 28th, Memorial Day.
The water buffalo herd was not to remain at Windshadow Farm and Dairy for long. Ironically, at the time of the attack, the Kleins had sold their entire herd due to a business decision and were experiencing delays with the animals’ relocation. The water buffalo finally left for their new home in Charleston, South Carolina about one month after the attack.
Ron said the fact that he’s able to tell his story is a miracle … and that he was lucky. “Any single trample, head butt, toss, or goring during the attack could have been fatal,” Ron acknowledged. He expressed special thanks to those who were the early contributors to his care including his wife Suzanne, his friends Mike Sullins and Derek Babcock, and all of the EMS personnel.
(For additional photos and details of Ron’s story, see Olga Bonfiglio’s report at http://olgabonfiglio.blogspot.com/2012/06/dairy-farmer-ron-klein-survives-water.html)
By Sara Sturgeon
West Michigan Air Care