More than 100 seniors are set to graduate from Radford High School tomorrow, becoming the newest Bobcat alumni.
One of those students has a special reason to be thankful for walking across the stage to receive his diploma.
Malcolm Dobbins, 17, is a healthy, smiling teenager who loves singing in the choir and hopes to be a meteorologist. He will graduate on Thursday with his adoring family watching, but there was a time when it was unsure if he would make it there.
Malcolm was born with sickle cell anemia, a genetic disease in which an abnormal type of hemoglobin changes the shape of red blood cells. The cells become shaped like crescents or sickles. The fragile cells deliver less oxygen to the body’s tissues, and can get stuck more easily in small blood vessels, interrupting healthy blood flow. A bone marrow transplant can cure the disease for many patients.
Malcolm’s biological mother, Stephanie, also had sickle cell anemia and passed away from the disease in 2001.
“On her death bed, she asked us if we would raise Malcolm and if we would promise to get him his transplant,” said Malcolm’s adopted mom, Barbara Dobbins, who is Stephanie’s cousin. “We promised.”
“[Stephanie] had laid all the groundwork,” added Paul Dobbins, Barbara’s husband.
Barbara and Paul set to work to make Stephanie’s wish for Malcolm come true and on November 22, 2002 he got his first of two transplants.
“The first one didn’t work,” said Barbara. “His immune system wasn’t suppressed enough.”
The second transplant, six months later, was a complete success.
“I got out of the hospital on my birthday, July 3, 2003,” said Malcolm. “I’m not on any medication now and I feel great.”
Prior to his transplants, Malcolm had three mini strokes, which has left him “a little less functional on [his] left side than the right side,” but other than that, he says he “feels totally normal.”
After his successful transplant, Malcolm got the chance to speak to the U.S. Congress to raise awareness about cord bank donation and stem cell research in 2007. During that appearance, he also got the chance to meet NBA legend Julius Irvin.
Malcolm says he loves being a Bobcat and has enjoyed his time at Radford High, especially in the choir where he has been selected for All District Choir for six years in a row. His other favorite class is Television Production, which he has taken for two years. He says Radford is a great place to grow up.
“You really can’t get a better place to grow up than here,” he said. “It’s safe, the people are nice. The older you get, the more you appreciate it.”
Malcolm plans to attend New River Community College to get his general education credits out of the way and hopes to attend Virginia Tech in two years to get his degree in meteorology. But don’t expect to see Malcolm’s smile in front of the camera as a TV weather reporter.
“I’d rather be behind the scenes,” he said. “I want to focus on the science of it.”
Malcolm also likes watching football and sports a number 4 Virginia Tech jersey. It’s not former Virginia Tech running back David Wilson who draws Malcolm to wearing a number 4 jersey, however.
“I wear this one because it was Paul’s number when he played football,” said Malcolm.
Malcolm says he thinks about his biological mom a lot and has several photographs of her in his room to keep her close by. Barbara says she knows her cousin is looking down on her little boy.
“I know his mother has been with him every step of the way,” said Barbara. “I know she is very, very proud of her young man.”
The Radford High School graduation ceremony is set for tomorrow, Thursday, May 31 at 6 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium.