Cody Stephens recalls a decade after his short life ended

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It was May 5, 2012, and the Stephens family of Crosby were about to celebrate their children in style.

“We had them all together and our three children were graduates. Clay, my oldest son was a graduate of U of H and Katie our daughter was a graduate of Texas A&M. Their youngest son, Cody, graduated from Crosby High School and earned a scholarship to play football at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, TX in the fall of 2012.

Little did the family know their celebration would turn into a tragedy and a decade later they would find themselves leading the state and the country with new legislation that would help save the lives of athletes because of Cody. It was a “Go Big or Go Home” mantra for the family — a phrase Cody used to describe his goals of continuing football after high school.

The parents had organized a street party with more than 300 families and friends. It was a joyful occasion and a chance for many of Cody’s friends to say goodbye as he headed north to play for the Tarleton Texans.

Early Sunday morning, Cody helped his father clean up the yard and load the folding chairs into the back of the truck to return to the Baptist church they attended before services began.

Cody didn’t stay but left with some friends and went to the Bass Pro Shop.

“I think he went with some of his friends. He had gift cards burning a hole in his pocket and he was ready to spend,” his father said.

Later that afternoon, Cody drove down the road from their house to the house of a six-year-old boyfriend where he was keeping his pig. He was celebrating his birthday and he went to wish him good luck. A gentle giant, all the kids loved Cody and were captivated by his size.

“Around four o’clock he walked past me and came into my room and told me he was tired and was going to take a nap,” Scott said, his dad never thinking anything. was wrong. He sat in the chair next to his father’s bed and started reading the graduation cards and fell asleep.

His father tried to wake him up a little later to help him bring a piece of equipment back to a warehouse, but “he gave me this kind of look like I was sleeping soundly with a teenage mumble,” did he declare. His father left him alone and continued to return equipment. His wife Melody had left home to see her mother who was ill at the time.

Around 8 p.m., Scott walked into his room and saw Cody still asleep. He was going to wake him up but decided to let him sleep. Tired himself, his father lay down in bed, a few feet away from Cody.

Scott woke up around 10:30 p.m. and tried to wake Cody. He was cold. It was too late. Cody had slipped into heaven and was gone. Despite attempts to revive him, they were unsuccessful. A 9-1-1 call was made but all they did was call it at the scene.

Scott was an emotional wreck, in anguish, screaming and pounding on the walls. Cody’s brother, Clay, called his mother.

“I couldn’t understand him at first and he kept saying, ‘Cody’s gone! Cody’s gone!’

She arrived home moments later before the ambulance arrived on the scene hysterical and the family heartbroken.

The ambulance arrived, the police came and escorted the family outside. For what seemed like an eternity, detectives scoured every room, closet, bathroom, in the house looking for anything that might help them in their investigation. The family did not understand that this was standard operating procedure to search for clues. But with nothing evident on Cody that showed any form of foul play, detectives had questions that needed answers.

“We had nothing illegal or illicit. Sure, we had drugs like most people, but we really felt like we were being violated when we were kicked out of our own home,” Scott said.

The shocking news of a life inexplicably lost so young swept through the community like wildfire.

“We were notified late Sunday evening,” said Dr. Marley Morris, principal of Crosby High School at the time. “We were ready the next morning with a crisis advisory team.”

Stephens, who had been at the North Shore Rotary Club as a member and president of the club, said life was unclear for him and his family in the following days as they prepared to lay their son to rest. No response from an early autopsy. He was just gone.

During the visit, 1,200 people marched. The following day more than 1,200 people attended the funeral and a remote satellite link was installed in the nearby gymnasium for the mourners.

Many remember how sad it was to see buses in a funeral procession. Everyone they passed in the motorcade as it passed through Crosby, Barrett and Highlands to Sterling White Cemetery knew a child had died.

That night after the funeral, the family drove to College Station and spent the night in a cabin. The next day, they would hold back their tears and watch Cody’s sister Katie graduate with honors. They were all mentally and physically tired but would not miss the opportunity.

For weeks there were tough days ahead for the Stephens family.

“We stumbled for a long time trying to figure out what had happened in the world. We got the toxicology report quickly, and it said his blood was clean. Nothing in his system,” he said, hoping for answers.

After many sleepless nights and questions swirling around in his head, Scott found himself in front of the computer screen surfing the internet trying to figure out what would kill an otherwise healthy 18-year-old.

“I came across a website called Parent Heart Watch and found myself reading about Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Cardiac Enlargement in Athletes and concluded that was the cause, or even a brain aneurysm “, did he declare.

For eight agonizing months, the family waited for the autopsy. When it happened, it was shocking.

“It took a team to decide but they concluded it was idiopathic left ventricular enlargement. The layman’s way of saying the left side of his heart was enlarged but we don’t know why said Stephens.

A condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, commonly referred to as HCM, appears to be the cause.

“That’s one of the things I’ve learned about it is that when people talk about an enlarged heart, I’ve always thought of a bigger heart. The heart itself doesn’t really isn’t bigger. What happens is that the lining of the heart thickens and weighs more. There’s less room in that little area of ​​bubbles that lets blood through,” he said. Explain.

At one point, it was thought that he suffered from exercise-induced asthma. He was given an inhaler, but rarely used it, Stephens said.

“Asthma is a lung function. Maybe that’s a sign we missed,” Melody said.

As their investigation grew and their suspicions focused on HCM, doctors told them that the rest of the family needed to be checked out as it is often found to be hereditary or in family genes.

The four family members were checked and, fortunately, cleared. But that was only the beginning.

Editor’s Note: In the second article in this series, the Stephens present their grief and solutions in Austin to the Interscholastic University League and ultimately to the state legislature.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

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