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The adventures of 'Super E'

Kranig is also known as "Super E" at Malone Elementary in Prescott. His teachers say they love having Kranig in the classroom. Photo courtesy of the Kranig Family1 / 2
The 9-year-old had eye surgery on April 21 and was given a special pair of contacts to help him see. The contacts themselves cost $15,000, while the eye drops cost $700. Photo courtesy of the Kranig Family2 / 2

It's a bird, it's a plane.

It's not Superman. It's "Super E."

While he's not able to fly, Ethan Kranig is a superhero to many in Prescott.

"Super E" is Ethan's superhero alter ego, with which he "fights" crime with his trusty sidekick "Buster the Dog." It's a nickname he enjoys; has a corresponding cape.

Ethan, 9, was born with Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia Clefting Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. The symptoms can vary greatly from person-to-person.

The syndrome generally causes defects in hair, teeth, nails, skin and sweat glands.

As a result of his condition, the Kranig family has spent many hours in many hospitals trying to help Ethan. Natalie Kranig, Ethan's mother, said the only hospital that could help Ethan with his latest surgery was John Hopkins in Baltimore, Md.

While there, Ethan had eye surgery to cauterize blood vessels that were causing cells to grow over his pupil, to help with his failing eyesight. Ethan's eyesight was so poor that he was blind in his right eye and 55 percent blind in his left eye.

The surgery itself was difficult for the Kranigs. Ethan had to be in Baltimore in April for a week. On April 21, Ethan went into surgery and came out with better eyesight; someday he might be able to operate a vehicle.

"It was a lot of self-reflection and going through difficult times," Natalie said. "Any one of us would've broke down and I think he only had one breakdown versus my many when he would go to sleep."

Coaches taught Ethan how to place his contact lenses correctly in his eyes. At first, the process was a struggle, sometimes taking Ethan up to six hours to put them in correctly.

Now, Ethan can place them in his eyes in a flash.

The contact lens covers the entire iris of his eye but Ethan doesn't notice them anymore.

He's had 29 surgeries for various issues; after each surgery, Natalie said he continues to endure.

"As always, he comes out triumphant in everything he does," Natalie said. "They always prepare us for the worst, but Ethan has overcome every single obstacle that he has ever faced. Every single one."

"Hat Day" and a dream come true

On April 13, a week before Ethan had to go to John Hopkins for surgery, Malone Elementary held a "Hat Day" for students, and a special surprise for Ethan.

Malone Elementary school nurse Cassie Butler said the school holds "Hat Days" as fundraisers for charitable causes. Students donate money in order to wear their favorite hats to school. The students paid $1 and were able to wear hats all day.

Butler helped organize the event and said that she thought the Kranigs were perfect recipients. After all, Butler sees Ethan on a frequent basis at the school.

"I see Ethan at least twice a day," Butler said. "He's probably one of the most positive, inspirational kids I know. It really came down to I wanted to do something special for him."

As a part of the surprise, Pierce County D.A.R.E Officer Allen Wojcik, Pierce County Sgt. Chad Koranda, and Prescott Police Officer Eric Michaels visited Ethan on "Hat Day."

"We came, brought some gifts," Wojcik said. "They brought him into the office, he didn't know we were here, so he was a little surprised."

Koranda said the opportunity to have a positive impact on a child's life through his occupation gives him reassurance in a career often fraught with disparities.

"It lets us know that we're doing something right," Koranda said.

Ethan's dream is to become a police officer someday; he has a collection of police officer patches thanks to Pierce County Deputy Eric Van Nocker.

Van Nocker gave Ethan a ride to school in a sheriff's squad for his birthday, after talking with Natalie.

"We spoke with (Pierce County) Sheriff Nancy (Hove) and she gave us the blessing," Natalie said. "It was a complete surprise when Eric came in the driveway. He gave him a ride to school and escorted him to class that day."

Van Nocker has been able to obtain 50-60 police patches for Ethan by reaching out to police departments all over the country and Canada.

"It was awesome," Van Nocker said. "As soon as I walked into the house, the smile on his face...was infectious. It was such an inspiration, seeing how positive he was and how much it made his day."

Ethan said all his patches "makes me happy" and that he loves his collection.

"Hat Day" raised more than $3,000. Butler said she wasn't expecting that much money to come from the event.

"(We were) just trying to surprise him and make him feel special and let him know we'll be thinking of him when he was gone," Butler said.

Like many in the community, Ethan's teachers feel he's an inspiration and that his good nature spreads throughout Malone Elementary.

Emily Brennan-Bobert, a special education teacher at Malone Elementary, said that Ethan doesn't have a negative bone in his body.

"I think that Ethan just radiates so much joy to everybody with all of the different things he's had challenges with this year and in the past...he brings the class up," Brennan-Bobert said.

The Kranigs love the Prescott School District and appreciate all it's done for their family. While the family was in Baltimore, they received numerous photos from Butler and the school district, all waiting to hear how their local superhero was doing.

"We feel they love him as much as we do," Natalie said.

An ongoing process

While Ethan's latest surgery improved his lifestyle immensely, Natalie said surgeries and visits to the doctor aren't done. The trips to John Hopkins Hospital won't slow down either, especially for increasing care for his eyes.

"It's so very specialized," Natalie said. "We went to many doctors here in this area."

The Kranigs will go to Baltimore in the next couple months for a follow up on Ethan's eye surgery, to make sure the cells aren't trying to grow over his pupil again.

Operations like these are expensive. Not only is the surgery costly, but the lenses that Ethan wears are $15,000. The eye drops for the lenses contain cancer medication but aren't covered by insurance since Ethan doesn't have cancer. The eye drops cost $700 a bottle; they help stop the cell growth in his eyes and are shipped from Baltimore.

Ethan's part of an experimental trial period that costs $500 every six months that isn't covered by insurance either.

If you are interested in donating to the Kranig family, visit and or an online auction:

Doug Kranig, Ethan's father, sees his son going through medical trials and surgeries, but doesn't see any other option.

"It's whatever it takes," Doug said. "Get it done and we'll figure it out."

Natalie said Ethan is her greatest role model and that being his mother is a blessing.

"Being a parent is the toughest job I'll ever love," Natalie said. "His attitude, I'm happy, I'm proud of him as a mother for sure. He's amazing."

"Not much bothers him," Doug said.

Ethan is pictured with his dog, Buster. Photo courtesy of the Kranig FamilyEthan doesn't reflect on his condition very often, spending time with his dog Buster and keeping up with his older brother Wyatt. Natalie said he recently asked Ethan if there was anything about himself that he'd like to change.

Ethan's answer, as continuously documented, was an unselfish one.

"As a mom, I wanted to hear him say nothing...but he said 'I want five fingers on each hand,'" Natalie said.

Due to his condition, Ethan only has two fingers on each hand. Natalie asked him why five.

"(He said) to give high fives," Natalie said.

Ethan probably won't be lifting cars with his bare hands or flying around Prescott with his dog Buster saving people, but what Ethan will be doing is spreading joy to people and giving them a big smile. And if you ask, he'll probably even give you a "high-two."

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism.