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Cramer in interview on ailing son: public's prayers are working

Rep. Kevin Cramer answers questions from the Grand Forks Herald editorial board in August. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., sat in the back of a Chevy Suburban in Fargo on Friday morning. In town was Sonny Perdue, the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the high-ranking reason Cramer found himself in front of cameras, on talks and on tour—despite his 35-year-old son, Isaac, hospitalized in critical condition hours away.

In the same car rode Sen. Heitkamp, D-N.D. There's a near-certainty she'll face Cramer at the ballot box this November, but she offered a moment of compassion that lasted with Cramer through the day.

"She grabs my hand and lets me know that she's praying for Isaac," Cramer said. "It's moments like that that let you know we're a community."

Rep. Cramer has been relatively quiet about his son's hospitalization last month, reportedly with serious liver and kidney issues. In a series of Facebook posts, he's offered a trickle of news from his son's bedside, first in Bismarck and now in Rochester, Minn., at the Mayo Clinic, where Isaac Cramer is under evaluation for a liver transplant.

But Friday, during a drive to be with his son in the hospital, he spoke publicly about the matter, frankly addressing Isaac Cramer's struggles with alcohol and thanking those who have kept his family in their thoughts over the past few weeks.

"It's still foggy for (Isaac). He's very sick. He's still in critical condition. But he is able to talk. He is able to receive some physical and occupational therapy, and most importantly, he is breathing on his own," Cramer said. "He's able to tell us what flavor (nutrition drink) he likes."

News of the younger Cramer's hospitalization in Bismarck broke on Feb. 24, and he was said to be in grave condition. As his health improved, Rep. Cramer remained in state, missing votes in Washington to stay with his son. Earlier this week, he said he was present for his son's transfer to the Mayo Clinic after recent snow had canceled flights to the capital.

Rep. Cramer declined to discuss the events leading up to his son's hospitalization, noting that he has tried to be as discreet as he can in his son's interest. But he said Isaac Cramer "has struggled with alcohol abuse."

"His liver has not been able to tolerate as well as other people's livers tolerate it. He has an addiction to alcohol," Cramer said. "I could pretend it isn't (alcohol-related), and then eventually tell you it is, but that wouldn't be truthful, and people would speculate it anyway."

Cramer said that his son's evaluation is for a liver transplant, though he is not a candidate to receive a transplant organ yet "because there are too many acute issues." But despite the intense stresses of the past several weeks, Rep. Cramer said he has has been cheered by the support his family has received.

"What's happened, because I'm a public figure, and because a lot of people are interested, what's been the blessing out of that is we've had really—we've been lifted up by literally thousands of people," he said. "I don't want to paint a rosy picture, but I want people to know that their prayers are working."

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108