UPDATE: Local cancer patient’s search for birth parents
CHESTER, Va (WTVR)- Three weeks ago CBS -6 brought you this story about a 45-year-old carpenter who has terminal cancer and wants to find his birth family before it’s too late.
Now, we can report he has found some answers, thanks to folks who saw the story. We have an update, but first, the beginning:
Kenny Malpass of Chester always knew he was adopted.
His father, Kenneth Malpass, says they didn’t want him to hear it from someone else, so they told him as soon as he could understand.
It was a grand day when the 6-month-old boy came from Richmond Social Services to the family who had a daughter but wanted a son, too.
“They called about two o’clock and said they were on the way with him,” Mr. Malpass recalled. “He’s been with us ever since. He fit right in, always been part of the family.”
Kenny, now 45, became an avid fisherman and a carpenter. He later moved to Florida and ran a bait shop.
Kenny’s adoptive sister was killed 13 years ago. Their mom died nine months later from a broken heart.
Now Kenny’s facing terminal lung cancer that has spread to his spine and ribs.
He’ll stay at home with his adoptive dad, the way his life began.
“July first, 2010. They told me I was eat up with cancer,” Kenny said while at VCU Medical Center getting treatment. “At that time, the doctor . . . was telling me three to six months . . . life expectancy. I looked at him, ‘Naw, that ain’t happening.’ That was 10 months ago.”
He’s been through 24 radiation treatments, and has had chemotherapy eight times. “It has a big effect on you,” Kenny said, his eyes filling with tears, when asked how a terminal diagnosis affected him. “It changes your whole life.”
His longtime search for his birth family has intensified. “The good Lord is going to take me away from this earth one of these days. And I would really love to find my biological family before I pass.”
Kenny discovered his Richmond adoption file went missing at Social Services. All the state had was a brief summary.
“It listed my name as Joseph Todd Harper and listed my mother’s name as Martha Harper,” he said. “It said she was in her early 20s, something about my father was in his middle 20s, he had some military background.”
He’s not mad at his mom or dad. “Oh no. I feel, for whatever reason, she did it in my best interest. She did it out of love.”
He figures she gave him up because she wasn’t married in an era when single moms were frowned upon.
“It’s always been a wonder, you know,” Kenny said as he fished in a pond near his home, “where I come from, what were the circumstances, what’d she look like, am I Irish, German, Dutch?”
Does he have any brothers or sisters?
Is his mom still alive? She would still be in her 60s. (Kenny was born on Jan. 2, 1966.)
And what would he like to say to his mother if she hears of his search but doesn’t want to contact him?
“I love you regardless,” he replied, his eyes filling with tears.
Since that story aired on June 29th, Kenny has been flooded with responses from people wanting to help.
“I was getting 30, 40 emails a day from people I didn’t even know,” Kenny said Tuesday while fishing one of his favorite ponds. “‘Just wishing you the best, you’re in our love and prayers.’ That was awesome.”
Among those who reached out was Polly Conover of Chesterfield County, who was also adopted as a baby. She’s also a nurse, so she had an idea what he was going through.
“Someone once told me it’s like a book,” Conover said. “It’s like a great novel, but they’ve ripped out the first chapter.”
She posted Kenny’s story on adoptiondatabase.org, reaching out to JoAnne Stanik of Tuscon, Arizona. Stanik is the woman who found Polly’s birth family and a searcher many believe to be the best “search angel” on the planet.
Stanik had answers within hours. “This birth took place in Richmond,” she said in a telephone interview. “We look in the surrounding areas . . . and I was checking yearbooks and I found a woman with the same name and so I started researching.”
Backtracking that yearbook entry, she found Kenny’s mother, who has a different last name, but still lives in the Richmond area.
Stanik, whose team has reunited nearly 4,000 birth families during the past 11 years, proceeded carefully. She said a successful reunion is built on the first contact.
“For many birth mothers, it’s a very shocking call to get,” she said. “They’ve had this secret all their lives.”
Kenny called us right away with the news. His mother is alive, right here in town!
“When JoAnne called saying she found my birth mother, it was very emotional. Everyone in the house started crying. Actually, I felt like a pregnant lady with all the different emotions going through me.”
But in the next few days, Kenny found himself wrestling with new, powerful emotions.
His mother isn’t ready to see him.
“Basically, when I talked to her I told her that I knew she done it in my best interest,” Kenny said. “She said, ‘yes. I did,’ and that’s pretty much where it stood. She just said she hadn’t talked with or seen my father in many, many years.”
Polly knows that feeling, too.
“No, they all don’t end happily,” she said. “I’ve met my half-sister Renee, and my half-brother, that was happy. But my birth mother wanted nothing to do with me.”
Kenny had said previously he was ready for a possible disappointment, but admitted the initial brief contact hit pretty hard.
“Through life I’ve watched talk shows, you know, where they reunited birth parents with siblings, you know it’s all rejoicing and hugging and crying. It’s a very joyful time. That’s the dream that I’d had.”
But he’s believing time will open the door to his mother’s heart. He’s also found out he has a half-brother, who he has spoken with several times since our story aired.
“When you find out that you have a brother that you never knew you had, it’s like you don’t even know where the conversation is going to go from one sentence to the next.”
He also has an aunt, nephews and lots of answers about his background.
Kenny plans to keep on fishing for answers, hanging on with his adoptive father, who has loved him unconditionally for 45 years.
His end may be near, but at last, he has connected with his beginning.