The Holzmans Turn Grapes into Grins
When Langdon Holzman was in seventh grade, someone asked him how he got the scar on his lip, and he realized he didn’t know. He figured he must have cut himself when he was little, so that’s what he answered, but the other kid didn’t believe it. In truth, Langdon didn’t either. When he got home, he asked his parents what had happened, and that’s how he learned he was born with a cleft.
He asked to see pictures, but they hadn’t kept any; his faint scar was the only evidence left of the way he was born. Langdon doesn’t know what his parents were worried about, but the more he learned about clefts, the stronger one particular feeling grew inside him — gratitude.
Even as a teenager, he understood how lucky he was to have cleft care as a baby and that his surgeries were so well done, even compared to the other kids in his high school who he noticed also had clefts. He resolved that if his cleft was genetic, he would handle any future child’s cleft much differently than his parents had handled his.
Closing the Generation Gap
In due time, Langdon graduated high school and college, married his wife, Addie, and became a partner at an investment banking firm in Charlotte. When Addie became pregnant with their first child, Finley, they braced themselves for the possibility that she would have a cleft.
She did. The 20-week ultrasound left no doubt.
“I thought surely there would be no cleft,” Addie remembers. “It was comforting to know Langdon had had it, but I was also scared.”
Langdon was also nervous for his baby, but the news also reminded him just how lucky he was to have the resources to provide his soon-to-be daughter with the best cleft care available. He and Addie spent the next 20 weeks researching the best cleft doctors and identified one they liked in Boston. When Finley was born, they flew from Charlotte to Boston and back for each of her first three surgeries and never forgot how privileged they were to be able to do so.
Following Finley’s primary surgeries, they found a craniofacial team closer to home, in Chapel Hill, that she has been seeing since. And, in an extra bit of blessing, Addie is a licensed speech-language pathologist, so has been able to help her daughter get ahead of any lingering speech issues her cleft may have caused.
Now that Finley is a teenager herself, the family’s journey has come full circle. When someone, usually a child, asks her why her nose or lip looks different, Finley knows exactly how to answer. She explains that she has a cleft and has been fortunate to receive treatment. And though she just had another surgery that might have made her nose look more “normal,” she wanted none of it. As Langdon describes it, “She just had what will hopefully be her final surgery. It was mostly functional to help her airflow, but there was a teeny little bit of a cosmetic element involved, and she said, ‘No, I don’t want that. I like my nose as it is; this is me, and we don’t need to change me.’ When I heard that, I was like, ‘Oh, God — thank you for that!’”
Blessings Over Wine
Langdon is a member of Grapes 4 Good, a group of male executives in the Charlotte area who meet every six weeks to “wine” about the world’s problems. “Each event is hosted by one of the members. He highlights an organization that’s had an impact on him, that he wants you to support, too. Then you drink a bunch of wine. It’s a great way to have a good time and at the same time actually make a difference,” he explained.
When Langdon’s turn to host came in November 2021, he knew exactly which cause he wanted to showcase. “I’m truly inspired by Smile Train’s ‘teach a man to fish’ model, how sustainable it is,” Langdon said. “I love how they don’t simply go in and perform cleft surgeries, but rather empower local cleft teams around the world to make sure everyone can have the same quality of care that Finley and I had. That’s what it’s all about.”
He made a PowerPoint introducing Smile Train and his family’s cleft journey, and the guys drank it up. In one weekend, Grapes 4 Good came together to raise nearly $16,000 for Smile Train.
“Many, many of the people in that room know Finley, but they didn’t know she went through this when she was born. So for them to see that whole picture and then, with Smile Train, to have to think about somebody not receiving that treatment as a kid and having to live into adulthood with a cleft… it was impossible for them.”
Drink Globally, Act Locally
While the Holzmans are thinking globally with their support of Smile Train, they are also acting locally to build a stronger cleft community in North Carolina. Addie has established herself as a resource for expectant and new cleft mothers who need recommendations for local care or just a listening ear. “When we learned about Finley’s cleft, it really touched us that people we didn’t even know, friends of friends, reached out so we’d have someone to talk to. Just to hear someone else’s experience made a huge difference, so that’s what we try to do for others when we can,” she said. “Whether here or in the countries where Smile Train’s partners are, it is an honor to be able to help make a difference.”
Langdon agrees. “It’s a blessing to be part of a solution, to be a part of a good thing that helps others.”