Porter-Gaud student's survival of deadly dengue fever opens his eyes, heart in new ways
Hunt Cramer left the Lowcountry this summer, his freshman year at Porter-Gaud School just completed, to embrace a new culture and offer what help he could to people in need.
Dengue fever facts
Dengue fever is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. As many as 100 million people are infected yearly.
Infected mosquitoes transmit dengue viruses to humans. Prompt treatment can substantially lower the risk of developing severe disease.
Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, severe pain behind the eyes, joint pain, muscle and bone pain, rash and mild bleeding from the nose or gums.
Dengue hemorrhagic fever, a rare complication, is characterized by high fever, damage to lymph and blood vessels, liver enlargement and circulatory system failure. The symptoms may progress to massive bleeding, shock and death. This is called dengue shock syndrome.
There is no vaccine available and no specific medications to treat dengue infection.
Most cases in the United States occur in people who contracted the infection while traveling abroad.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WebMD
Which he did, for a month of life-changing service in Thailand.
Dengue fever fundraiser
High school sophomore Hunt Cramer has launched a project to raise money for dengue fever research after suffering severe complications from the virus himself this summer.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the 100 million people worldwide infected with mosquito-borne dengue viruses each year.
Cramer designed a T-shirt available for $20 online at www.booster.com/defeatdengue. It features a mosquito with a red slash through it.
Funds raised through T-shirt sales will go to the Sabin Vaccine Institute. Go to www.sabin.org for more about the company, which focuses on developing vaccines and treatments for tropical diseases.
Then came the journey home.
On his way to visit grandparents in rural Upstate New York, the 15-year-old descended into a potentially fatal illness aboard an eight-passenger airplane in the care of his younger brother.
A three-hour ambulance ride later, he lay in a Vermont intensive care unit isolation room, with multiple organs failing, his parents flying in from opposite ends of the country, and nobody sure what was wrong with the football player and school class president.
As his mom put it: “You cannot make this stuff up.”
But to Hunt, the unforgettable summer journey revealed the nature of true happiness — and the power of intense prayer.
Traveling to Thailand
Hunt wanted to visit a country that was nothing like his world on James Island, attending an upscale private school and living in a realm of plenty.
Traveling to Thailand
His mother, real estate agent Julia Armstrong, suggested Thailand.
She wanted her son, a faithful St. Philip's Church member who sits on the Porter-Gaud Vestry Council, to meet people of different faiths and cultures. She wanted him to choose his faith based on real wisdom and experience with other religions.
She wanted him to meet good people who believe differently from him.
Which he did.
He chose Rustic Pathways, an international service trip organizer that offers trips called “Come With Nothing, Go Home Rich.” They challenge teens to bring just five items with them and experience another world through that stripped-down lens.
Hunt chose a spare set of clothes, his phone, a charger and his Bible.
He left June 18 for a month-long journey, the only Christian in a group of 14 teens headed for remote villages in the mostly Buddhist country.
They stopped in several villages to labor with local residents and purchase supplies for critical projects.
But it was in the lone Christian village they visited when a 10-year-old boy asked him in broken English:
“You love Jesus?”
When Hunt nodded yes, the boy's eyes lit up. He invited Hunt to his home.
There, on the family's only bookshelf, was the family's only book, a Bible.
The boy opened it to John 3:16.
In his native Thai, the child read. In English, Hunt read back.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
They read on, back and forth, back and forth. “Here we are, two people with totally different lives from totally different places who came together in appreciation of the same religion,” Hunt says.
Thailand is a tropical country, hot and humid with lots of jungle. It rained every day. Several teens suffered 100 or more mosquito bites.
Hunt got only a few and considered himself lucky.
On the air-conditioned plane ride home, he reflected on the people he'd met.
“They have nothing and are absolutely happy,” he recalls. “Here, it's more like everything is a competition. It was cool to see such a different mindset and how you can be happy without all of the things we have.”
He flipped through pictures on his cell phone to solidify the notion as he returned home to the expectations of nice clothes and new cars.
He stopped in Maine at an aunt's home and met up with his younger brother, Toby. The teens were excited to go visit their grandparents in upstate New York.
But Hunt didn't feel so great.
He took ibuprofen and went to bed. Bizarre dreams left him unsettled and restless.
The next day he and Toby headed out to catch a bus to the Boston airport.
Yet, Hunt felt feverish and exhausted. He couldn't seem to drink enough water.
Maybe he'd caught the flu.
During the bus trip, Hunt couldn't lift his backpack. He looked pale. He asked Toby nonsensical questions.
When they reached the airport and found a seat, Hunt laid his head back. His eyes rolled in his head, his consciousness graying out.
Freaked out, Toby called their parents.
“Toby's voice was alarming,” Armstrong recalls. “I could tell he was scared.”
The boys boarded an eight-passenger plane and settled into seats in the very back. Maybe some rest would help.
Sweat drenched Hunt despite the cabin's chilly air. He began to shake.
“I knew it was something really bad,” Toby recalls.
Meanwhile, Armstrong called her parents in New York: Bring two cars to the airport. Take Toby to your house in one. Take Hunt to a hospital in the other.
Hunt's grandmother rushed him to the nearest clinic in their small town.
The medical staff sent him on a nearly three-hour ambulance ride to a teaching hospital in Vermont.
Hunt figured the IV in his arm was overkill.
“I knew I was sick. I just didn't know how sick,” he says.
He got to the hospital's ER around 1 a.m., by then too weak to move.
Their father, Dr. William E. Cramer, was searching for a flight. Armstrong had found one, but was stuck in Chicago.
The next morning, someone asked Hunt to sit up. He did, and felt the worst pain of his life, his head splitting, ankle and knee joints searing.
Later, he'd learn about dengue fever, a tropical virus that goes by the nickname “bone-break fever.” For good reason.
With his temperature soaring above 104 degrees, he was admitted to the intensive care unit and placed in isolation while staff narrowed his possible diagnoses to several tropical diseases.
When Armstrong arrived, she froze. She hadn't seen Hunt in a month, since before he left for Thailand.
Now, as she donned a protective suit needed to be near him, he looked like a pumpkin, his face swollen, his skin an orange-yellow due to liver failure and a leakage of blood and fluids from his vessels.
His kidneys, liver and gall bladder were failing.
His spleen swelled several times its normal size.
And his blood pressure plummeted dangerously low.
Hunt had contracted dengue fever, caused by a virus that is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Although most people suffer more flu-like symptoms alone, it can lead to dengue hemorrhagic fever and shock, potentially fatal complications that Hunt now battled.
“There is no vaccine or cure for it,” Armstrong recalls learning. “If you get it, you live or you die.”
So, she contacted her prayer group leader back home, Pringle Franklin, who promptly sent prayer requests throughout St. Philip's, and beyond.
“Charleston had Hunt's back,” Amstrong recalls.
He'd need it.
Road to recovery
A day later, Hunt's doctors marveled at how quickly he was recovering. His blood pressure rose. His fever dropped. The pain eased.
Road to recovery
He was moved to a regular room. Soon after, he was discharged to the R&R of his grandparents' lake house.
He slept. He read a lot. And he recovered enough to go home.
On Tuesday, Hunt began a new school year at Porter-Gaud, once again the friendly, bright-eyed student body president that his fellow students and faculty know.
But he remembers.
He remembers the 10-year-old boy in Thailand who read the Gospel of John with him. He remembers the Thai people's joy without material comforts that surround his own life.
He also remembers suddenly returning to health, and his thankfulness for the prayers of many.
“It's fair to give medicine a lot of credit. But it's also fair to give prayer a lot of credit,” Hunt says. “The Lord played a role in my life.”
Last week, he read a Wall Street Journal headline: Dengue Fever Sweeps Southeast Asia. “Already 94 have died in Thailand, tripling the 32 who died there in the first seven months of last year,” the story read.
Instead, Hunt will turn 16 in a few weeks. And on Tuesday, wearing his Porter-Gaud jersey, the outside linebacker cheered his football teammates from the sidelines. He will sit out the season due to a still-enlarged spleen but plans to play lacrosse this spring and football next fall.
As for regrets? That's not his style.
“I had such a great experience in Thailand,” Hunt says, grinning. “I'm thankful for it.”
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563.