Logan's World

It’s not easy being thirteen and three-foot-ten. But Logan Duvick, who was born with dwarfism, handles it with a ready smile. His parents? Well, they’d like for you to stop staring and, please, don’t ever call their son a midget

Written by Ken Garfield
Photographs by Chris Edwards 

 

Logan has been a student at Cannon School long enough to where other kids usually don't stare at him. But perhaps worse, he's often ignored.

Logan has been a student at Cannon School long enough to where other kids usually don’t stare at him. But perhaps worse, he’s often ignored.

 

Logan Duvick was twenty-four hours old when the doctor came into the hospital room and offered the newborn’s parents what were meant to be comforting words.

Logan’s going to be fine, Todd and Pam Duvick were told that day in Des Moines, Iowa. He’s just going to need a little more love. Like the little people in The Wizard of Oz.

In the thirteen years since, the Duvicks have learned that dealing with Logan’s dwarfism is less hurtful than dealing with ignorance and indignities. This they know: Logan has short arms and legs. But all those people who make jokes, stare, stereotype, taunt, turn away, or, worst of all, ignore him—they’re the ones with the bigger problem.

The Duvicks, who are average size and moved to Charlotte in 1997, are trying to raise sensitivity while also raising a teenager with dwarfism. Being thirteen and trying to fit in is never easy. Leave it to Logan to describe what it can be like growing up at an already awkward age in a world that doesn’t always offer you rainbows and yellow-brick roads.

"Some people use my head as an armrest sometimes."

First things first.

Logan hates being called a midget. "That word makes us feel like we’re freaks at a circus," he says. "Like they’re throwing peanuts to the elephant." The Duvicks don’t care for "little people" either, even though the national nonprofit group in which they are active is called Little People of America. Why, they wonder, should people be identified first by their physical stature?

The family wishes Logan simply could be called a person with dwarfism.

Or just Logan, a bundle of energy and freckles packed into three feet ten inches.

He was born with achondroplasia, the most common of the 300 known forms of dwarfism. One in 30,000 births result in dwarfism, a genetic disorder that typically is not discovered until a baby is born. The Little People of America (LPA) estimates there are 30,000 people with dwarfism in the United States. It’s hard to know how many families in the Charlotte area are raising a child with dwarfism, though it probably isn’t many. Some sixty families belong to the Carolinian chapter of the LPA, which covers a 100-mile radius around Charlotte plus all of South Carolina.

Those with Logan’s form of dwarfism have a large head and short limbs. One look at his arms and legs in the delivery room and the Duvicks didn’t need a doctor bringing up Munchkins. They had no inkling during Pam’s pregnancy; dwarfism is not hereditary.

Their oldest child—Betsy, eighteen—is average size. To her, Logan has always been the typical kid brother. She yells at him when he hogs the remote control, and she defended him the day she took him out for ice cream and noticed some kids staring at him.

"I gave them the evil eye," she says.

The Duvicks didn’t decide to have a third child until doctors assured them that they were in no more risk of having another baby with dwarfism than anyone else. They prayed that their third would be a boy, so Logan could have a best friend. Christian, ten, fills that role joyfully. He and his older brother play a game whose name says it all: Roll the Ball in the Hall. They rarely fight, except when Logan keeps the remote from him, too. Christian didn’t even notice there was something special about his brother until three years ago.

"I’m used to him," Christian says.

Still, there are poignant milestones when one of your three children is born with dwarfism: not long ago, Christian passed his older brother in height.

Logan, a seventh-grader at Cannon School in Concord, is a generally good-natured boy who lets his smile do his talking. He’s articulate, but shy, and does as well in school as can be expected considering he doesn’t exactly stay up late studying. He’s in good health, except when his attention deficit disorder makes it a challenge to express what’s on his 100 mph mind. ADD is not uncommon in children with dwarfism. He’s expected to have a normal life span, unless his beloved Carolina Panthers drive him to utter despair, all that video gaming makes him go blind, or he runs out of breath trying to blow on his trumpet. He laughs when told that the good news is he doesn’t play trombone. "Or tuba," he adds, laughing again. His dream job when he’s ready to go to work? A veterinarian. 

When Friday rolls around and his parents relax the rules, he heads to the bonus room in their two-story house, starts up his iTunes on the computer, and loses himself in video games with his long-time cul-de-sac pal, Brad Riley, fifteen.

"We understand each other," Brad says amid a spirited game of Wii baseball. "A lot of people think when they first see him, he can’t do anything. He can pretty much do anything anybody else wants to do."

Says Logan: "He’s just been there all the time for me. Plus, he can reach stuff I can’t."

Logan and his family understand that they have no choice but to adjust to the facts of his life. For one, he’ll have to play in youth sports leagues because he’s not strong enough to compete with bigger kids. Todd Duvick, a Bank of America corporate bond analyst, has thrown himself into organizing sports activities for kids through Little People of America. Partly due to the size difference and frustration, Logan got lazy his last year in youth baseball and kept taking bases on balls. It was easy because his strike zone is so small. Logan remembers one of the last times he took a rip at a pitch in a league with big boys—he nearly toppled from the weight of the bat and the force of his trying so hard. It hurt less to stand there and not swing.

Logan will always need a special chair or footstool at the kitchen table, and, later in life, at work, so his legs don’t dangle and wreak havoc with circulation in his feet. Adult males with his form of dwarfism generally stop growing at four feet two inches, women at four feet.
Seeing that he’s thirteen and the hormones are starting to bubble, Logan’s parents are trying to protect him from the heartbreak of teen romance or lack of it. Their worst fear is that deeper heartbreak will come when he asks the wrong girl to go to the mall and she, at best, says no and, at worst, laughs in his face.

Joking, but not totally, Pam says, "We’re prepared to fly a girl in to go to the prom."

Logan is already looking past prom night and the middle school angst that makes finding a clique or asking a girl for a date so much harder for him. He’s decided that he’d like to meet and marry a woman with dwarfism and have children just like them. That way, he says, he and their mom will know how to handle what the kids will face. There are profound risks, though, if he chooses to have children with a woman with achondroplasia. Dr. William Mackenzie of Wilmington, Delaware, chairman of the Medical Advisory Board of the Little People of America, says the chance of them having a child with achondroplasia is 50 percent. The chance that they’d have an average-size child is 25 percent. There’s a 25 percent chance their child will die at delivery.

That joy, or heartbreak, is somewhere down the road. Today, Pam says, Logan is prepared to do what other thirteen-year-olds would absolutely die before doing: dance alone at school parties.

"Would I change him?" Pam asks. "No. He is who he is. Him being a little person, that’s who he is. I tell him, ‘You’re fine. These other people are the ones with
the problems.’"

The Duvicks would be happy keeping to themselves. But the world won’t let them. It keeps on pushing them, and Logan, until they feel they have no choice but to fight back.

Todd, forty-seven, sobbed when doctors confirmed Logan’s diagnosis soon after he was born, heartbroken over what he believed his son would face in this world.

Pam, forty-six, threw up on the side of the road moments after she dropped off Logan at his first day of preschool. Now, years later, she seethes at each new slight, stare, or comment—challenging strangers, preaching about the injustices to anyone who will listen. Her pulpit is often the computer in the kitchen of her home off Mallard Creek Road in northeast Charlotte, where she fires off sermon-style e-mails to friends, reporters, anyone who might listen.

And Logan, well, he’s the one who has to take it all…

Being compared to a Munchkin not long after they cut the umbilical cord.

The day at the zoo when a group took pictures of him instead of the animals.

The stares in the mall.

The people who turn away in an elevator.

The waitresses who look only at his size and bring him a kiddie cup. "They don’t stop to look at his face," Pam says. "I hate it when people think I’m five or six or seven," Logan says.

The other waitresses who look past him and ask Pam what he wants to eat. His mom’s reply: "Why don’t you ask him?"

The kids who point and stare at his size.

The kids who gawk at how far apart his eyes are.

The kids who ask him how old he is. Their reaction when he says he’s thirteen years old? "Basically," says Logan, "they tell their friends and their friends tell their friends. It always goes around in a circle… Some kids are just jerks to me. I know what my friends should be like."

The kids who ignore him. He told his mom that bullies are less of a problem now than people who act "like I don’t even exist."

At times, Logan has wished he had not been born with dwarfism. But then he thinks better of it, believing it was part of God’s plan for his life. A veteran of Cannon School, Logan is familiar enough that he no longer is the subject of constant indignities from his fellow students. Sometimes, as he puts it, he’s the worst thing a middle school kid yearning to fit in can possibly be.

Invisible.

Many lunch periods find Logan and a pal having nearly an entire area of the cafeteria to themselves while sixth- and seventh-graders fill the other tables. There the two of them sit—one a teenager with dwarfism, the other an avid reader, each having to look to the other for the only companionship they can find during their meal.

One day, over spaghetti with meatless sauce, which he barely touches, Logan explains over the din of other kids’ conversations why lunch can be a lonely time of the day:

"I’m not really that popular."

The Duvicks understand that it’s not enough to cry out for the stares and comments to stop. Rather than just rail at insensitivity or lament the lack of footstools in public bathrooms, they know they need to help others see and understand.

Todd has spoken at Diversity Day at the bank about affirming all people. He’s vice president of the Carolinian chapter of LPA. He comes home after a grueling week of business travel and sometimes hits the road again, organizing basketball games and the like for Logan and the other LPA kids. Stoic by nature, this is how he channels his love and concern for his son. One of the family’s cherished possessions is a copy of The Seattle Times with a photo of Logan winning a silver medal in the forty-meter dash at the LPA national convention. What you notice first is the look of fierce determination on his face, then the muscles in his legs.

Logan understands he needs to reach out to kids instead of waiting for them to reach out to him. Cannon School guidance counselor Josie Woods, a kind soul who’s working closely with Logan, had him speak to the Diversity Club and again to seventh-graders about the importance of respecting others. As she helps him summon courage, she counsels other kids to make room for him at their table.

"Instead of shying away from Logan because he’s different, invite him in," she tells them.

Logan says Cannon School assigns middle-schoolers to smaller advisory groups, hoping especially that the ones who have trouble finding their way will feel more comfortable reaching out.

"It’s helped me a little," Logan says. "I’m trying to meet new friends, to say hi to people. Mrs. Woods says if I did that, kids would start to feel a little more comfortable around me."

Those who live with this condition are hopeful that a more understanding day is ahead.

A recent LPA meeting draws twenty people to Ryan’s Family Steakhouse at Concord Mills for burgers and fellowship. Joy Proper, whose seven-year-old son Matthew was born with dwarfism, drove from Greensboro. She says she’s optimistic about the world in which Matthew will grow up. She doesn’t mind the stares from children—one little girl couldn’t take her eyes off Matthew as he walked into a private room at the restaurant with his parents and two averaged-size siblings. She wants him to have thick skin as he grows up. But let an adult stare a second too long and her motherly instincts come out:

"I’ll say, ‘Do you know my son from somewhere? I don’t know you so how can you know my son?’ "
Logan and Matthew hit it off at the luncheon, talking quietly while the adults talk LPA business. Then, thankfully for the fidgety kids, it’s time to head to Dave & Buster’s at the mall to play arcade games.

Stephanie Brandon, twenty-four, president of the Carolinian chapter of the LPA, says the culture generally seems more tolerant of people who are different in one way or another. And people with dwarfism understand that while they must keep up their guard against injustice, it doesn’t help the cause to be quick to lash out. "You don’t have to always be preaching it," Brandon says, "or then people will pay attention to you just for that."

The days of dwarf-tossing contests in bars are largely over, Brandon notes. As long as you can do the job, most employers are willing to welcome people with dwarfism to the office. She says the cause of destigmatizing those with dwarfism has been helped by a reality TV show—Little People, Big World on TLC—that tells with honesty and warmth the story of Matt and Amy Roloff. A married couple, each four feet two inches tall, they run a farm in Oregon and have four children, one of whom is a person with dwarfism. Brandon, who was born with dwarfism and grew up in Lancaster, South Carolina, says the show has opened people’s eyes by portraying the Roloffs as "quote unquote normal people."

"They do everything like everybody else," she says.

Maybe the way in which Logan views this TV show is the story of his life, at least his life the way his family wishes he could live it.

At first, Logan didn’t want to watch Little People, Big World. He turns on the TV to escape, not to be reminded of his reality. As he started watching with his parents, though, he began seeing himself in the struggles and determination of people coping with what he has to deal with.

"We notice that sometimes he is nodding his head in agreement over things they say and experiences they have," Pam says.

But when the show’s over, Logan will happily turn the channel and crack up over the joy, lunacy, and innocence of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Just like every other kid.