John J. Kralik M.D. was born 11th February 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio. He started school at Our Lady of Peace in Shaker Heights. He was a year younger than his classmates at Cathedral Latin High School, but “Johnny,” as they called him, stood out as a brilliant student, and became the Valedictorian and Vice- President of the Class of 1941. As a concert violinist, he was the concertmaster of the Cathedral Latin Orchestra, and won numerous National and Ohio State Violin Championships.
Dr. Kralik won a scholarship to John Carroll University, but transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, MA to study marine architecture. His plans to be an engineer were interrupted by the Second World War. On 1st December 1942, he enlisted in the Army as a private. He often told the story of how the officer at morning line-up asked whether anyone would like to be a doctor. Although the thought had never crossed his mind, he stepped forward to answer yes. In his book, Open Sesame, Dr. Kralik described how he passed the admissions test, which had only one question: “How many siblings do you have?” He had two, his sister, Elizabeth, and his brother, Richard, both of whom he loved dearly, and who he now joins in heaven.
The Army assigned Private Kralik to Temple University, where he quickly completed undergraduate school. He was then assigned to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. In 1946, with the end of World War II, Dr. Kralik was honorably discharged from the Army, but he had found his passion for surgery, and decided to complete medical school. He remembered, and strove to meet the ideals of his surgical mentor, Dr. Isadore Ravdin, who told students: “You have now joined a profession which has been actuated for centuries by the desire to relieve suffering humanity. The profession should include only men and women who are willing to give the best they have unselfishly.”
After graduating from Pennsylvania in 1949, Dr. Kralik began his of residency at University Hospital at Case Western University in Cleveland. By 1951, he was the Chief Resident, specializing in cardiac surgery. That year he met Rita Hennessey, a striking, independent-minded nurse from Niagara Falls, New York who was working in obstetrics and pediatrics at McDonald House. John and Rita first talked as they were walking home from Mass at the Newman Club. Smitten immediately, John soon asked Rita to see George Szell conduct the Cleveland Orchestra at the Severance Center. They were married on 27th December 1952.
In 1953, Dr. and Mrs. Kralik were called back to the Army as part of the Korean War effort. He was assigned to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, Texas where he had the opportunity to work with the world’s most advanced heart surgeons. John and Rita’s first child, Rita Marie was born in San Antonio.
During his 15-month tour of duty at Brooke, Dr. Kralik travelled the country, often at his own expense, to observe advanced techniques in cardiac surgery, including the first heart-lung machines that made open-heart surgery possible. He established a new Cardiovascular Surgical Service at Brooke, where he built his own heart-lung machine, and performed numerous major heart operations and cardiac catheterizations. He was again honorably discharged in 1954, having reached the rank of first lieutenant of the Medical Corp.
After his war-time service, John and Rita returned to Cleveland, where he established the Cardiac Surgery department at Marymount Hospital. He again built his own heart-lung machine and developed and taught to others his advanced technique. His attention to detail, high level of expertise, dedicated blood bank, and intense multi-day follow up with his patients resulted in an unusually high rate of success, and happy patients telling their stories: the Cleveland papers of the 50’s and 60’s were full of articles about how his patients were saved by his rare and remarkable surgeries. The Cleveland Press even ran a comic strip in which he was featured as “Dr. Kral.”
In 1965, Dr. Kralik became Chief Resident of Wilmington Hospital in Wilmington Delaware. Moving to Delaware was a logistical feat because by 1965, John and Rita had eight more children: two girls, Elizabeth and Kristin, and six boys, John, Raphael, Michael, Gabriel, Joseph and James. Michael is now a heart surgeon in Phoenix, Arizona.
Returning to Marymount Hospital in Cleveland in 1966, Dr. Kralik continued to specialize in cardiac and thoracic surgery. He was a pioneer in the installation of pacemakers, and resuscitation technique. He also branched out into numerous additional areas of general surgery. Again, his skill and mortality rate stood out.
Dr. Kralik continued to operate and practice medicine until age 80, when he was felled by a heart attack on his way home from Geauga Hospital in rural Ohio. His life was saved by a triple bypass performed by Dr. Robert Stewart, who dared to take on this difficult case. Dr. Kralik remained in critical care for more than a month, but had a strong will to live and awoke to fourteen more years of life.
Throughout his life, Dr. Kralik had a natural aptitude for teaching. He taught his surgeries and techniques to many younger physicians, including recent immigrants whose immigration and naturalization he supported. His love of learning and teaching did not stop with medicine. He loved to teach almost any subject, including the abacus, accounting and finance, astronomy, computers, card games, chess and backgammon, and of course, his beloved violin.
In his later years Dr. Kralik spent much of his time on Amelia Island, Florida. He loved to walk along the tranquil beach with his wife Rita, and watch the sunsets and moonrises. He returned to his treasured violin, and would often play Moon River while looking out at the long river of moonlight stretching into the Atlantic Ocean. At 93, Dr. Kralik became an author. His book, Open Sesame, available at Amazon.com, explains the magic of the compound-interest equation, and the financial wonders that it can unlock.
When Dr. Kralik passed away at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida on 28th February 2018, he was with his wife Rita, and his sons Michael and James. Dr. and Mrs. Kralik have been married for 65 years. Many of their anniversaries had been marked by earrings bought at Tiffany’s, after breakfast. He was being cared for by his daughter Elizabeth, a nurse practitioner, who has given the last four years of her life to caring for her parents.
Dr. Kralik’s powerful intellect remained with him to the end: on occasion the nurses could not distinguish which orders were his, and which were from the attending physicians. His own life was the longest of any known Kralik family member, but his legacy is in the hundreds of thousands of patients whose lives were extended by his surgeries, care, and teachings. His patients were of all ages, from the many precious children whose congenital heart defects he repaired, to the many elderly whose hearts remained beating because he replaced their coronary arteries or gave their hearts new rhythms with pacemakers installed at all hours of the day and night.
A devout Roman Catholic throughout his life, Dr. Kralik attended Mass and prayed the rosary almost daily. His last stop before the operating room was always the hospital chapel. He often operated on priests and nuns without charge, and would pay for their hospital stay, never saying a word. He was a Member of the Knights of Columbus and a follower of the Christophers, whose motto was “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” He taught each of his children to memorize the 91st Psalm and to recite it in moments of fear or pain. On 28th February 2018, he attained the ultimate promise God makes to David at the end of the Psalm:
I will deliver him and glorify him.
With length of days, I will gratify him,
and show him my salvation.
Dr. Kralik is survived by his wife Rita, by all nine of his children, by grandchildren John, Joshua, Katie, Luke, Meagan, Molly, Peter, Ethan, Ryan, Chun-Yin, Yuan Mei, Christopher, Sean, Jiayin and Liam, as well by his great-grandchildren Hayden, Grayson, Orion, Zemra, Zarina, Tessa and Blake.
There will be a Prayer Vigil and Visitation between 4:00 and 6:00 pm at the Oxley-Heard Funeral Home, 1305 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034 on Sunday 11th March 2018. The Funeral Mass will be held on Monday 12th March 2018 at 11:00 am at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, 505 Broome Street, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034.