Home : News : Article Display

Hearts of strength

Kyle and Robyn show matching tattoos

Capt. Kyle Kramer, 1st Helicopter Squadron helicopter pilot, and his wife, Robyn, show their matching tattoos at their home in North Beach, Md., Feb. 5, 2018. They got the tattoos after their son, Jack, had his last open heart surgery at the age of 2. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Michael S. Murphy)

Jack rests in hospital

Jack Kramer, 2, rests on a gurney in Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, Ma., July 27, 2016. This was the first time his parents were able to see Jack after being stabilized from surgery. (Courtesy photo by Kim Avenger)

Jack loves his toys

Jack, 3, son of Capt. Kyle Kramer, 1st Helicopter Squadron helicopter pilot, plays with his toys at home in North Beach, Md., Feb. 5, 2018. Jack has survived three open-heart surgeries after being diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. HLHS is a congenital heart condition that does not allow proper flow of blood from the heart to the body. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Michael S. Murphy)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- She heard the dull and tiresome beep from a heart monitor in a dark hospital room in the Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, Alabama, on March 12, 2014. Light cut into the room as the door opened and a doctor walked in, waking her and her husband, Kyle Kramer.

The doctor informed them their newborn son, Jack, was in worse shape than they thought.

“The doctor had tears in her eyes, and that’s when she told us that she had a bad feeling about [his heart],” said Robyn Kramer.

That night, the doctor called in an echo cardiogram technician to perform a scan that revealed Jack had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital condition causing the heart to improperly pump blood to the body. Their son was going to need at least three open heart surgeries.  

“I remember asking her straight up, ‘Is he going to die?’” Robyn said. “She just had the saddest look on her face, and she said she didn’t know. That was a question from then on that I constantly asked the doctors, and always got the same sad face.”

From that day on, she and her husband, Capt. Kyle Kramer, now a 1st Helicopter Squadron pilot here, found themselves fighting a battle to fix their baby boy’s malformed heart. And to make it more difficult, the diagnosis came as a surprise.

“I had all of the proper prenatal care,” Robyn said. “There is no history of heart disease in our family. The second he came out, the doctor hadn’t even cut the cord yet, and he said ‘Something is wrong with him.’”

Jack rests in hospital
SLIDESHOW | 3 of 3 | Hearts of strength Jack Kramer, 3 weeks, rests in a gurney at Children’s of Alabama hospital in Birmingham, Ala,. April 2, 2014. Two weeks prior Jack had received his first open heart surgery. (Courtesy photo by Jennifer Thompson)

The nurses and doctors originally told them the problem was Jack’s lungs. He was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit at the SAMC and was projected to return to his family about 12 hours later. Kyle and Robyn felt there was no need to worry.

After additional testing at SAMC, they decided to send Jack to the Children’s of Alabama hospital in Birmingham.

“They ended up flying Jack out [to Birmingham] because they couldn’t take care of him,” Robyn explained.  “We went down to see Jack one last time and the flight nurse was putting him onto a stretcher. The flight nurse told Kyle to kiss him goodbye, and I started crying,”

In the coming months, Jack would receive multiple heart surgeries beginning at Children’s of Alabama hospital and ending at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston. 

Father and son at play together.
Jack and his father, Capt. Kyle Kramer, 1st Helicopter Squadron helicopter pilot, play with toys while at Chesapeake’s Bounty in North Beach, Md., Feb. 9, 2018. Chesapeake’s Bounty is a store that Jack likes to visit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Michael S. Murphy)
Father and son at play together.
Hearts of strength
Jack and his father, Capt. Kyle Kramer, 1st Helicopter Squadron helicopter pilot, play with toys while at Chesapeake’s Bounty in North Beach, Md., Feb. 9, 2018. Chesapeake’s Bounty is a store that Jack likes to visit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Michael S. Murphy)

By the time Jack was 2 years old, he had received medical operations costing more than $2 million dollars.

Kyle, a prior Air Force combat controller, said his previous military experience helped him tackle the issues his family was facing. 

“You can sit and wallow in self-pity or you can pick yourself up and continue on,” Kyle said. “We did everything that we could. We brought him to the hospital as the best option that we had at the moment, and there was nothing else but to have faith that he would come out fine. That kind of kept me going, and I never worried about him dying,”

The Kramers didn’t have to go through it alone. Kyle and Robyn both said they received overwhelming support from his leadership and unit and remained resilient and hopeful in the face of Jack’s rare heart condition. Anytime Jack was in the hospital, Kyle was released to go take care of him.

The Kramer family
The Kramer family poses for a portrait in their home in North Beach, Md., Feb. 5, 2018. From left to right: Marley, 6 months old, Kyle, 1st Helicopter Squadron helicopter pilot, Jack, age 3, Robyn, and Joey, 6 months old. Jack has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare heart defect that does not allow the heart to fully develop. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Michael S. Murphy)
The Kramer family
Hearts of strength
The Kramer family poses for a portrait in their home in North Beach, Md., Feb. 5, 2018. From left to right: Marley, 6 months old, Kyle, 1st Helicopter Squadron helicopter pilot, Jack, age 3, Robyn, and Joey, 6 months old. Jack has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare heart defect that does not allow the heart to fully develop. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Michael S. Murphy)

“I know that no matter what happens that his work lets him go whenever it may be,” Robyn said. “I don’t know if there would be any other job that would be so cool with it. It’s so funny, because Kyle was two weeks from separating years ago, and he got picked up to be a pilot. If we had any other job, things would be so different.” 

And it wasn’t just colleagues and leaders. Kyle said the kindness received from others made an unforeseen impact in his life.

“I will forever be in their debt,” Kyle said. “That has been the most humbling thing I have come across. It’s when they say ‘Go take care of your kid’ and that’s it. I don’t even know how to say thank you.”

Robyn said Jack has far exceeded the medical standard set by doctors for children with HLHS for intellectual development and physical growth.

Jack shows off his scar
Jack Kramer, 3, shows off his scar at his home in North Beach, Md., Feb. 27, 2018. Jack received his scar after having multiple open heart surgeries due to hypoplastic left heart surgery. Jack calls the scar his “zipper.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Michael S. Murphy)
Jack shows off his scar
Hearts of strength
Jack Kramer, 3, shows off his scar at his home in North Beach, Md., Feb. 27, 2018. Jack received his scar after having multiple open heart surgeries due to hypoplastic left heart surgery. Jack calls the scar his “zipper.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Michael S. Murphy)

“He just got cleared a month ago for the first time ever,” Robyn added. “He doesn’t have to go back to the cardiologist for one year, and before that it was every three months.”

The Kramers have taken up the task of making others aware of the rare heart defect by maintaining a social media presence about Jack and his heart defect.

“They appropriately went all in,” said Maj. Katy Tenpenny, a helicopter pilot instructor at Fort Rucker, Alabama, while Kyle was there (now the Air Force District of Washington chief of helicopter operations here). “First is understanding and taking care of him, so I think that was their immediate thought, but I think they are also trying to raise awareness.”

With his health now better than ever, the Kramers have high hopes for Jack’s future and what he will accomplish.

“He is going to go to Harvard,” Kyle said with a grin. “Harvard is the medical school for Boston Children’s Hospital, so all his doctors are from Harvard. We always joke that he is going to end up back there.” 

 

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.