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November 5, 2009

Tech Hall of Famer helping his grandson tackle a tough foe

By: Jimmy Robertson

Photos courtesy of the Cox FamilyVincent Dale Cox, the 6-year-old grandson of former Tech great Carroll Dale, is battling a rare blood disorder and needs a bone marrow transplant, and his grandfather is doing everything he can to help him.

Carroll Dale has been a part of athletics for pretty much his entire life, from the time he played at J.J. Kelly High School in southwest Virginia to his days at Virginia Tech, and later, to his role as a part of two Super Bowl winning teams with the Green Bay Packers. And even though he is long retired from the gridiron, he took a job working in athletics as the assistant vice chancellor for athletic development at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (better known as UVa-Wise), raising money for that school’s programs.

But Dale isn’t thinking much about sports these days.

He’s immersed in helping his youngest grandchild tackle a foe fiercer than any Dale faced on the football field.

Dale’s grandson, 6-year-old Vincent Dale Cox, is battling an extremely rare blood disorder known as Fanconi anemia, a disorder that causes the bone marrow in the body to stop making blood cells needed for the body to function normally. Typically, this life-threatening disorder comes from an inherited defective gene in the body and leads to serious health problems later on, such as cancer, and in particular, leukemia, if not treated.

“It’s been tough,” Dale said. “It’s been tough on our family. You can see the wear and tear on my daughter [Vincent’s mother, Valarie]. During times like this, your faith becomes key. We’ve got a lot of people praying for him. He’s struggling, but he’s hanging in there.”

The Cox family - Valarie (top left), Vince (center), Victoria (right) and 6-year-old Vincent (bottom center).

The Cox family, who reside in Bristol, Va., found out about Vincent’s disorder about three years ago when a family doctor astutely noticed Vincent wasn’t growing enough – in fact, he wasn’t even on the charts – and alertly sent him to a children’s hospital in Johnson City, Tenn., for further testing. The disorder causes certain physical defects (small head and eyes, misshapen hands and arms, skeletal anomalies of the hips, spine or ribs, low birth weight, etc.). A bone marrow biopsy tested positive for Fanconi anemia.

“We were shocked and surprised,” Dale said. “It’s genetic, so we had his sister [14-year-old Victoria] tested and she was fine.”

The only long-term treatment for this blood disorder is a bone marrow transplant, which involves radiation and chemotherapy to kill Vincent’s existing marrow and then an injection of new marrow from a donor into him. Valarie Cox is a match for Vincent and will be the donor. The family hopes to have the transplant done at the University of Minnesota’s Medical Center in early December.

“If we don’t do it, the life expectancy is about four or five years,” Dale said. “Once he has the transplant, he’ll be in the hospital for anywhere from four to six months. They’ll [the doctors] keep him there because, if his body rejects it, there wouldn’t be enough time to get him to Minnesota to treat him.

“Then when we bring him home [after the three months], we’ll have to keep him out of public places for a year because of the risk of infections.”

Other than his small stature, one wouldn’t know that anything is wrong with Vincent, who turns 7 in December. Just like his granddad, he loves all sports, especially soccer, football, basketball and golf, and he loves the AWANA children’s program and children’s choir at the family’s local church.

He tries to participate in everything, but low blood counts cause him to tire easily. He remains only as active as his body allows.

“He’s a normal boy,” Dale said. “He gets tired easily, but he’s a typical boy. I tell people all the time that he’d run us ragged if he had his full blood.”

Dale and his wife both plan on traveling to Minnesota to be with the Cox family. They’re currently lining up house sitters and finding people to take care of their pets.

They’re also doing everything possible to help raise money for the medical expenses. The treatment alone costs at least $1 million, and though the Cox’s medical insurance will pick up some of that tab, they still need to come up with a significant portion. Some of the proceeds will go toward travel costs for father Vince and daughter Victoria, who won’t stay with Vincent and Valarie the entire time, but rather will travel back and forth periodically from Bristol to Minnesota.

Dale has used some of his fame to help in the fundraising department. Tech fans remember vividly the days when Carroll played as a receiver in Blacksburg, twice earning All-America honors and leading the Hokies in receiving every season (career numbers: 67 catches, 1,195 yards, 15 touchdowns). The university later retired his number (No. 84) – he is one of just four football players to receive that honor.

He then went on to a fantastic career in the NFL with three separate teams (the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings). He was a part of three championships with the Green Bay Packers, including the first two Super Bowls, under legendary coach Vince Lombardi. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1979 and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Dale drew a crowd at an October fundraiser at a Chick-fil-A in Bristol in which he signed autographs along with former Green Bay teammate Willie Buchanon, a three-time Pro Bowler and the 1972 NFL rookie of the year. Chick-fil-A contributed 15 percent of each dinner purchase toward the Cox family’s medical expenses.

“We’ve had such a nice response,” Dale said. “Chick-fil-A was so gracious, as were all the people who came by. That really generated some nice returns.”

Dale knows that people sympathize with the family and that illnesses with such young children often provoke even stronger emotions. He needed no further proof of that than when he met up with an old friend recently.

“He had heard about Vincent,” Dale said. “We were talking about our grandchildren, and he said he wanted to help. So he pulled out his checkbook and wrote me a check for $5,000. I guess when you’re talking about your grandchildren, all of us can relate.”

For those who wish to contribute toward the Cox family cause, please make out a check payable to the Wise First Church of God and mail it to the Wise First Church of God, For VDC Medical Fund, P.O. Box 980, Wise, VA, 24293.

The bone marrow transplant will go a long way toward determining Vincent’s future. With a successful one, he could live well into adulthood, though he will need his blood counts monitored regularly.

“This is just one of these things in life that’s a part of life and you have to deal with it,” Dale said. “I’m taking the glass is half-full approach. He’s got no other health problems and that’s a blessing. We’re hoping he has some degree of a quality life. We know there are some cases where a person will grow and be normal, and we’re praying for that.

“You just have to have faith and do what you have to do.”