It’s not unusual to find all the rowing machines at a gym occupied in early January. It is, after all, the month of redemption after the season of eating.
But on Jan. 9, 16 CrossFit teams from all over the state showed up at CrossFit Coordinate in Cary off Penny Road to row for a little boy named Logan Stephenson.
Logan was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, one of the most common birth defects in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Logan’s parents, Jessi and Bryce Stephenson live in Clayton and are both members of the CrossFit community.
Philip Tabor, co-owner of CrossFit Coordinate with his wife, Holly Tabor, and business partner Tyler Riva, wanted to help the Stephensons with their out-of-pocket medical expenses. There are routine expenses to help the infant now, and he’s scheduled for operations in March.
“Bryce has been a part of the CrossFit community and played a role in helping me get healthy and fit,” says Philip Tabor. “My wife and business partner have trained with Bryce for the last three years and just wanted to give back.”
The teams rowed from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., with most teams rowing nearly 13 miles. The event, as well as a GoFundMe page, raised more than $10,000 for the now 8-month-old baby.
Cleft lip and palate defects, known as “orofacial clefts” in the medical field, are serious because they can cause problems with feeding, speaking, breathing and talking, as well as presenting a distorted appearance of the nose, mouth and palate (the roof of the mouth).
In the U.S., surgeries are typically performed between 3 months and 1 year of age, but in many developing countries, surgeons and care are scarce, and many children simply grow up with the facial disfigurement.
The Stephensons found out about their son’s issue at the baby’s 20-week ultrasound last January. Bryce took it particularly hard.
“I actually had a cleft lip and palate, so it was something that I’ve always worried my child would have to go through,” he said.
Knowing early helped; the couple was able to consult with multiple doctors and bring necessary feeding equipment to the hospital.
“We found this bottle ahead of time that we were pretty set on using, and we took it to the hospital with us,” says Jessi. “Logan had to be in the NICU for four days. There was a feeding specialist we met with on the third day to help us. We honestly thought feeding would be harder than it has been, and he’s been a trouper with that.”
After about a month, Logan was fitted with Nasoalveolar Molding (also called a NAM), which creates a full palate and also begins to the set the stage for surgery; cartilage is malleable at such a young age. The NAM is secured with Fixodent, and new molds are made every week.
“The NAM is a big deal,” says Jessi. “We weren’t really prepared for how much dedication that would be on our part. We definitely see the output of what we’ve done. He’s had expanders, he’s had nose stints, face tape. That’s been the most challenging – having to deal with that every day, to clean it, hold it in.”
Logan, the couple’s first child, is taking it all in stride. His surgery is now scheduled for March 2, but has been delayed several times. The first surgery will fix the jaw and lip; a second surgery will follow a few months later to fix the palate.
“He is the happiest baby we could ever have asked for,” says Bryce. “He doesn’t complain about anything. We go to his appointment every week; everybody’s putting devices in, and all the babies start screaming, and I’m holding Logan and he’s asleep.”
Phillip Tabor said the fundraising event was a “blast” and indicative of the power of the CrossFit community.
“CrossFit communities all over the world are built on the principle of community and support,” Phillip Tabor said. “We raise money and hold events often, but this time we wanted the money to go to something local that we were passionate about.”
Bryce Stephenson couldn’t believe the turnout.
“It was overwhelming to see the amount of people that we didn’t even know who were willing to show up and support Logan all night, physically exerting their bodies for him. It was super cool.”