Rallying for Rowan

Local patient inspires heroes to look further
June 10, 2016

Every day our recruiters and staff reach into the community to do what seems to be the impossible, to save lives. We pound the pavement inspiring strangers to become heroes, while our techs work round the clock to take what our donors selflessly provide (blood, stem cells, tissue) and transform it into lifesaving treatments for patients in need of transfusions, transplants… and, yes, hope.

But what drives us to do this? On any given day our staff could tell you stories of patients that we’ve fought for and have inspired us. Today that patient is Rowan.

To know Rowan Windham is to instantly be moved to know more, do more, and to keep on reaching. As he was wheeled into our building this week by his mom Carrie Anne and their nurse Cindy, we were all instantly hit by how small he seemed. Tucked into his wheelchair, he quietly entered carrying a bouquet of roses. One would never think that this little guy dreams of building medical equipment one day or has a passion for Cryptozoology.

Diagnosed with Schwachman-Diamond Syndrome, a rare disease that affects the pancreas, GI tract, immune system, blood and bone marrow, Rowan has received dozens of blood transfusions and spent more than 1,000 days in the hospital. That’s a lot for anyone to endure at any age, let alone a 9-year-old boy.

When his doctors recently told him that a stem cell transplant was his only chance at a cure, his team searched the national marrow donor registry, Be The Match, in hopes of finding a donor. Unfortunately, there was no match in the system. That’s where we jumped in.

GenCure has been tirelessly seeking a match for Rowan, holding multiple drives in his honor. So far hundreds of potential donors have been inspired to join the registry, but a match has yet to be found.

Ever positive, Rowan wanted to meet a stem cell donor to find out what the experience was like. As he entered our Cellular Therapy suite, the recipient of those roses, Yvette, immediately burst into tears. Already in the PBSC donation process, she couldn’t hug him, but there was definitely an immediate connection.

"Rowan, I read about you. You inspire me, and I want you to know that if I were your match, I'd give you my cells today too," Yvette said.

The two discussed the stem cell donation procedure, a process very similar to giving platelets, and Yvette stressed to him that she wasn’t hurting, was “treated like a queen” and that she would do it again in a heartbeat. They also shared what Rowan has had to endure.

"Yeah, it's almost nothing to them, but it's everything to us. I wish everyone would sign up to do it.  I would if I could," he said.

Rowan also shared his bucket list with Yvette. Things that stood out were:

  • Cook with Gordon Ramsay
  • Swim (he just had his first swim that same week!)
  • Go camping
  • Learn to ride a two-wheeled bike (his mom has been taking him for short rides and he hopes to get his training wheels off soon)
  • Find a cure for cancer
  • See Mount Rushmore
  • Go to regular school
  • Play in the snow (somewhere that is “up to his knees”)

Rowan also took a tour of our facility, getting a behind-the-scenes look at how our BioBridge Global family of nonprofits is helping him to get better and how we help other patients, too. He saw how The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center processes blood cells, separating and prepping them for transplant, how GenCure readies cord blood for storage, and watched as a “robotic arm capping hundreds of tubes of blood in a sterile machine” prepping samples for testing in our QualTex Laboratories– an inventor himself, this was his favorite part.

As we wrapped up his whirlwind visit, Rowan became very tired. But he still shook hands with every staff who wanted to say hello – to say we are all fans would be an understatement – and he perked up to say thank you for the incredible donation that the BBG family made to one of his favorite causes, the San Antonio Food Bank. After learning that many children in our community struggle with meals during the summer months, Rowan has been collecting cereal boxes. Last year he donated over 4,000 servings. His mom assured us that with our donation they’re sure to top that this year.

The search for Rowan’s cure continues and our entire staff has become inspired by his ever-present positivity and giving spirit. We know you will be too.

To learn more about Rowan and find out how you can help, click here. You can also follow his blog here.

UPDATE: Rowan's family announced that he would receive a haplo-identical/half-match donor transplant in July from his mother. It is his wish that his story may be shared so that other patients can find their perfect match. Our BioBridge Global family will continue to work with the Windhams to help his check off "Help lots of other people find their bone marrow match!" from his bucket list.