Photos by Rome City Schools

“We are fighters. He is a fighter and he is love, he is determination and he is everything we strive to be,” said Kelly McDowell of her son before he walked with assistance to a microphone and sang an unforgettable rendition of the ” The Star-Spangled Banner.” He was also joined by his grandparents, Calvin and Linda McDowell, for a Noon Optimist Club luncheon at State Mutual Stadium.

Darby McDowell never meets a stranger and he loves to sing, according to his mother Kelly. Music is a mainstay in the Dowell household and her West Central third grader has found a true passion from sitting around the piano and singing all genres of music with his mom.

To understand how amazing this young musical talent really is, it helps to know a little of his back-story.

He drew his first breath after only being able to stay with his mother for 29 weeks. Because of his early birth, Darby did fight to live as an infant. His lungs collapsed and his tiny body worked to survive on 25 percent of the adequate amount of oxygen needed to sustain his body’s functions. His lungs could not handle the ventilator, so he would need the care of medical professionals who were equipped with the technology and know-how to make him well.

He and his family sought the help of a specialty hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn. where physicians were able to stabilize his condition, but Darby was still not out of the woods. The doctors said that his quality of life would be severely impacted because of how very sick he was in the short time his light had begun to shine.

“They told us he would be deaf, he would be blind, and he would never walk or talk, if he made it at all,” said Kelly, “but I told the doctor that he needed to stop using the word ‘if’. I knew Darby was going to make it through his sickness, and I knew that all of the things they told me he would not be able to do were only their opinions. We are a family that has faith, and with faith we can overcome anything. Something inside of me was telling me that we were going to get through this, and I just knew he was going to be special.”

Her motherly instincts, along with the help of her unwavering faith, was spot on. Darby can definitely see, and to listen to him sing is to know that he hears just fine. And with the help of a new surgery, Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy, he uses a walker to help him stand and walk.

Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy is a neurosurgical procedure where the surgeon identifies nerves in the lower spinal cord that are causing increased muscle tone in the legs. Patients with Cerebral Palsy have abnormal nerves that can be cut using this procedure, providing a chance for them to improve their mobility with the help of intense therapy.

It seems that Darby runs right through adversity like a hot knife through butter, so he has added the additional challenge of singing to his list of incredible accomplishments. Ask anyone who attended the luncheon and they’ll tell you he is on track to master his craft.

“We were at Miracle Field for fall baseball, and I had received an email from Lori George before the season started,” Kelly said. ” She asked if Darby would like to sing the National Anthem there, and we told her yes and we thought it would be super! On September 14th, he sang and all of this attention has come from that moment for Darby. His video is getting bigger and bigger. I think we are up to 45,000 views since he sang that day. Lori emailed me again after the event and asked if he would sing for the Optimist Club.”

Kelly said that Darby has been singing since he learned to talk. Her family is musically inclined and Darby has fallen right in line with the tradition.

“We play the piano and he sings and conducts,” she laughed. “Sometimes we just straight up have church! I have played the piano my whole life.”

“And I have played the piano my whole life,” Darby added.

“We are beyond thrilled that all of this is happening for Darby,” Kelly continued as Darby showed off his conducting skills. “He communicates so well, even just through his facial expressions. People see him and say, ‘Wow, he is incredible!’ They don’t see him as an underdog because he rises so high.”

The room stood still with hands over hearts as Darby made his way to the microphone. And when he opened his mouth to sing, he opened the hearts of his listeners and he opened the door for all who may think that any limitation stops them from achieving their dreams.

“We can always count on Darby to have a smile on his face,” said West Central Principal, Daphne Johnson during her introduction of Darby and his family. “He loves school and he works hard, everyday. He is an absolute joy to be around and that is evident by his large group of friends at West Central. Darby has faced many challenges in his life, but that has not slowed him down or broken his spirit. He is truly an inspiration to everyone at our school.”

Never stop singing, Darby. Go Wolves.