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HOLMBERG: Cancer patient looking for birth mom dies before meeting her

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Posted at 11:28 PM, May 16, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-17 07:05:29-04

CHESTER, Va (WTVR)- We met 46-year-old Kenny Malpass on the James River a year ago, while the shad were running.

He talked about cleaning and giving away the fish he caught. “Share the wealth and the man upstairs will bless us,” he said.

He looked like he needed a blessing. As it turns out, he’d just come from a radiation treatment. One of many, plus multiple rounds of chemotherapy he was getting for stage-4 lung cancer.

He told he was also fishing for his birth mother. His wish was to meet her before the cancer killed him.

“It’s always been a wonder,” he told us then. “Where I come from. What was the circumstances? You know, what she looked like . . .

We found out Wednesday Kenny didn’t make it. His father told me he died in his sleep at home, two months ago, without ever meeting his mother.

But he came oh-so close.

As soon as our first story about Kenny’s search aired,  Polly Conover or Chesterfield, an adoptee and  a so-called search angel, got busy, contacting the woman considered to be the nation’s best birth family tracker.

It wasn’t long before Kenny got the call. They had found his birth mother. She was alive, still living in the Richmond area.

Kenny was so excited.

“Actually, I felt like a pregnant lady, with all the different emotions going through me,” he recalled when we were fishing during a follow-up conversation last summer.

But what he had hoped would be a joyful reunion ended before it started.

“He called, she hung up on him,” his adoptive father, Ken Malpass recalled while swaying on the two-seater porch swing he was sharing with Kenny the last time we saw them. “Well, I told him before I found her, ‘Kenny, this may be part of her life she wants to forget.’ He said, ‘yes, I know, but I want to try. So he found her.”

But Kenny learned additional details and his mom and why he was put up for adoption – that she felt it was the best thing for him. And he had a joyful meeting and conversations with a half-brother he never knew he had.

“No, they don’t all end happily,” Polly Conover said when we last updated the story. Her own birth mother, when she finally found her, “wanted nothing to do with me.”

“You know,” Kenny said last summer, “through life I’ve watched the little talk shows . . . where they reunited birth parents with their (children and) siblings, you know, and it’s all rejoicing and hugging and crying . . . that’s the dream that I had.”

Kenny had taken it all pretty well. Just finding out the bits and pieces he did excited him. When we last spoke in the winter, he was still hopeful for that reunion. He had beat the doctor’s prognosis by more than year. Maybe in the spring . . .  

Thursday evening, CBS photographer Phil Karstetter and I went to one of Kenny’s most favorite fishing ponds near his house. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets of the spring.

I thought of about what he told me what he would want his mother to know if he never found her or didn’t get to meet her:

“I love you regardless.” 

See Mark's previous stories on Kenny.