D’Marco Jackson, whose speech at the 2015 Hermitage High School graduation on his fight with a rare form with cancer became a social media hit, died early Tuesday.
Nearly 80 days after his third bone marrow transplant since October, he was fighting multiple infections and viruses, his mother, Lucet Galarza-Martinez, posted on Facebook. The 19-year-old had been hospitalized at the VCU Medical Center for more than six months.
“It is with great sadness to announce that at 2:10 this morning D’Marco took his last breath,” his mother wrote. “He was surrounded by his loved ones who laughed, cried and reminisced about D’Marco’s personality as we played his favorite songs.”
Funeral arrangements are pending, Galarza-Martinez wrote. Hermitage plans to hold a memorial service at a later date, officials said, and counselors are available at the school for students and staff.
Mr. Jackson was diagnosed at age 16 with a severe case of aplastic anemia, a blood disease in which the body cannot produce an adequate number of blood cells. At the time, Mr. Jackson had just transferred to Hermitage to play football.
But the new kid at school would not be stopped. Despite his diagnosis and hardships, Mr. Jackson gained a reputation of being outspoken and intelligent, and he constantly told his classmates to live life to the fullest, Principal Andy Armstrong said.
It was easy for Mr. Jackson, Armstrong said. He went on to become a student leader, the pep rally emcee at the Henrico County school and a person who could motivate anyone.
“He was so good at mobilizing students,” Armstrong said. “D’Marco was just a great representative of our entire student body.”
That led to him being voted as one of three students to give a speech at graduation. He went over his allotted two minutes due to being halted several times by applause.
“Two minutes to tell you about how I looked death in his face. And yes, it’s a he. I know because he’s visited me personally in my dreams. And two minutes to tell you about how surviving cancer has changed my life for the better and about how I now appreciate every ... ” he said before having to pause. “I now appreciate every waking moment I have and now you should, too.”
Each day, he said, is an opportunity to change the world.
“But none of that can happen if your mind and thoughts are too clouded with the thoughts of the past and future to acknowledge and appreciate the present,” he said.
Mr. Jackson’s inspiring words went beyond the student body. Jaime Conklin, his guidance counselor at Hermitage, was among friends and family at his bedside late Monday and early Tuesday.
“He inspired me every day,” Conklin said. “He probably was one of the greatest kids I met my whole life. ... He made me a better person, a better counselor, a better mother.”
She said Mr. Jackson would want his legacy to include a push for people to join the bone marrow registry. Because he was biracial, finding a donor match was challenging.
“He would not want people to go through what he went through,” Conklin said. On Tuesday afternoon, she recalled asking Mr. Jackson what his plans were for the future.
“He said, ‘I just have one goal — to change the world,” Conklin said. “I think he’s done that.”