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Eight-year-old Jack Hammers isn’t shy. He’ll tell you that he’s scared of snakes, he doesn’t like blood, and he used to cry when he got a flu shot. He’ll sing you one of the songs he’s written, such as the one about walking in his brother’s footsteps in the sand. He’ll show you the scars on his legs and talk about how he’s mad at God for making him short.
“That’s fine,” his mother, Elizabeth, will tell him. “That’s between you and God.”
But Jack won’t tell you what he prays for. That’s private.
So you wonder: Does he pray he’ll get taller so his feet reach the floor when he’s sitting in class? Or that one day he’ll run the way his brother and sister do? Does he pray he won’t get teased?
Other people were praying for Jack even before he was born. His mother found out while seven months pregnant that he had a medical problem that could kill him in infancy. She had a crib at home and a name picked out. A doctor suggested she consider terminating the pregnancy.
She and Jack’s father, Dave Hammers, said they were going to give him a chance.
When Jack wrestles with his seven-year-old brother, Augie, or steps onto the school bus at Bethesda’s Ashburton Elementary, where he’s in third grade, it’s hard to believe he’s the boy in the stories.
There’s one story his mom tells over and over. She and Dave took Jack to see a pediatric orthopedic surgeon when he was nine months old. Jack was born with a cleft palate; club feet; hearing, vision, and spinal problems; and bowed legs. But his parents didn’t have an official diagnosis of what was wrong. Elizabeth says the surgeon looked at him, took out a medical book, and said her son had camptomelic dysplasia. The rare congenital skeletal disorder, which causes dwarfism, is almost always fatal.
“I don’t operate on kids who are going to expire,” she remembers the doctor saying.
“My son’s not a library book,” she said.