Siblings Are Thankful for Bone Marrow Transplant

On Thanksgiving Day every year, Marc Kutzer and his sister, Roberta Klein, have much to be thankful for.

In 2001, Kutzer went to his primary care physician for a routine physical. What his doctor discovered led Kutzer, 52, to Dana-Farber — and to a procedure he credits for saving not only his life, but also his sister’s.

He received a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which means his bone marrow was not producing enough healthy blood cells to fight off disease and carry oxygen through the body. Doctors told the Hopkinton, Mass., resident that he required a bone marrow transplant immediately, but Dana-Farber’s Robert Soiffer, MD, thought otherwise.

Soiffer co-leads the Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), which has performed more than 6,500 stem cell and bone marrow transplants since 1972. He told Kutzer that although a transplant would eventually be needed, there was no reason to subject him to the procedure just yet.

“With a diagnosis of MDS, a transplant is the only curative therapy,” explains Soiffer. “However, transplants are not without risk, and if we can delay them in some circumstances, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Marc Kutzer received a bone marrow transplant with cells donated by his sister, Roberta Klein.

Kutzer visited DF/BWCC every three months for blood tests. Finally, in 2007, Soiffer thought the procedure was necessary. Kutzer’s sister, Roberta Klein, was a bone marrow match, but when she arrived at DF/BWCC for her routine pre-transplant physical, the family received more shocking news.

Klein had lung cancer.

“I remember when she called to tell me,” says Kutzer. “She cried more because she couldn’t be my donor than because of her diagnosis. However, if she had not gone in for that physical, they would likely not have caught her cancer before it had spread.”

Because Klein’s cancer was detected early, DF/BWCC surgeons were able to remove her tumor completely and restore her donor eligibility. She underwent treatment, and a few months later, on Nov. 20, 2007, her brother’s transplant began.

On Thanksgiving Day, 2007, Kutzer left the hospital a week after his transplant. This November marks five years since his procedure, and he and his sister are both thankful to be cancer-free.