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GREENSBORO, N.C -- Jesse Wharton Elementary School students held a walk-a-thon fundraiser Friday for a Gibsonville baby born without a diaphragm.

"He's one year old and 14 pounds," explained Ryland Braxton's mother Chelsey Braxton. "He should be 20-something (pounds), so you know eating is a struggle for him, where it might not be for other children because of his lung size. What could be a simple cold for me or you could be really detrimental to him."

Ryland Braxton has Congenital Diaphragmatic Agenesis (CDA), a physical condition with only a 50 percent initial survival rate upon birth. He has an artificial diaphragm, which his mother said will have to be replaced multiple times as he grows.

As a result of the condition, Ryland Braxton's lungs are smaller than what they should be for a baby his age, and his mother said he has trouble eating. Chelsey Braxton said the majority of his medical expenses are covered by Medicaid, but his twice-a-week appointments at Duke cause gas costs and parking fees to add up.

"We want to make a donation," said Jesse Wharton physical education teacher Dean Fox. "We understand some of the financial stress Ms. Braxton is undergoing with Ryland's care, so we want to help out as much as we can."

Fox, friends with Ryland Braxton's grandfather, had heard about the baby's condition and relayed it to his students. He said he and the students mutually decided to re-direct the purpose of their annual walk-a-thon.

"I thought this would be a good service learning project for our children--something a little different than we've done in years past," Fox said.

Jacari Mason, a fifth-grade student at Jesse Wharton, said, "I feel happy because I get to support someone, and I just like to help families in need and babies in need."

Emma Meisinger, also a fifth-grade student at Jess Wharton, echoed Mason's perspective.

"We heard about Ryland and his diaphragm, and we wanted to help him, so he could have a better life. And we wanted to inspire him," she said. "I feel great because I can help a child's life, and he just seems so happy to be here with us."

Chelsey Braxton said, "It's amazing. It's truly amazing. I mean that all these children would care about someone that they didn't even know, and a little baby and that they took the time to know what it (CDA) and are out here supporting him--it's amazing."

An additional fundraising opportunity for the Braxton family will take place this Sunday, May 18 from noon to 6 p.m at Lamb's Chapel Church in Haw River. RSVP to RootingForRylandGasCards@yahoo.com.

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