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Bootstrap-pulling mom aspires to transplant list

Lori Kramer will graduate in December from Gonzaga University.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Lori Kramer will graduate in December from Gonzaga University. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Liver disease the latest obstacle for GU student

Life has a way of knocking you when you’re down, but Lori Kramer is determined to stay on her feet.

Five years ago, she said, it was her husband throwing the punches, so Kramer packed up her two sons, ages 9 and 6, and fled across several states to Spokane. She arrived in an SUV with a bit of money and some clothes, but little else.

Today, the 39-year-old is finishing her final year at Gonzaga University, where she will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree – not a bad effort for a formerly homeless single mother starting over from scratch.

But just about the time she put her life back together, she was diagnosed with incurable liver disease. This time, there is no running from danger. Without a transplant she will die.

“There’s nothing I can do but try to fight,” she said.

Kramer came to Spokane after leaving her second husband, who was from a prominent family in her small hometown. On Valentine’s Day 2005, she dropped him off at work, picked up her boys at school and left town.

“We had a decent life, except that he was beating the crap out of us,” Kramer said.

When she told the police chief about the abuse, she said he told her, “You know, Lori, you just have to learn not to piss him off.”

Kramer came to the Spokane area because the family of her first husband, the boys’ father, had a home in Liberty Lake they were not using, which kept the family from living on the streets. She and her sons now live in a modest Spokane apartment. Kramer said she couldn’t have picked a more giving community.

Soon after she arrived, she slipped and fell, badly injuring her arm. Unable to keep her restaurant job, she turned to the Institute for Extended Learning and the Change Point program for women, which she said taught her independence but most importantly “how to like yourself.”

The YWCA helped her become legally separated. Her church and the Philanthropic Educational Organization also helped. She did so well at Spokane Community College, she was accepted at Gonzaga University with a scholarship. She lives today on student grants, loans and food stamps.

Kramer became involved with the theater departments of both colleges, and organized drama students to pose as victims in Spokane Fire Department exercises. She joined AmeriCorps and volunteered at the Holy Cross Adult Day Center and Salk Middle School.

Along the way she earned the respect and friendship of professors, students and church members. When these friends learned about her health problems, they sprang into action.

Kramer’s insurance, the state’s Basic Health plan, falls short of providing the care she needs. With her friends’ help she will undergo testing at the Mayo Clinic’s facility in Phoenix at the end of this month.

Kramer hopes to be placed on a transplant list, but she estimates her first trip alone will cost $6,000 to $9,000.

Spokane Christian Church has opened a charitable account in Kramer’s name, while friends have started fundraising efforts at SCC and Gonzaga.

“She is a person who would help everybody else before she helps herself,” said Verlinda Washburn, the church member who opened the account for Kramer. “It’s way past time for her to get the help she needs.”