For Blood Disorder Patient and Sibling, Brotherly Bond Extends to Marrow Stem Cells

August 15, 2019

Barely a year apart in age, brothers Dave and Mike Winslow have always been close. So when Dave learned that he needed a allogeneic bone marrow transplant due to a blood cancer known as myelofibrosis, it was fitting — and fortuitous — that Mike was the perfect match to be his donor.

This fall, most likely in late September, the Winslows — the two oldest of four brothers — will come to Boston for the procedure. Dave, 58, will check in at Dana-Farber’s inpatient hospital at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH); a few days later, Mike, 57, will head to BWH and have his marrow harvested as a potentially life-saving gift to Dave.

“Sometimes when we can’t do anything directly to change a situation, we feel helpless,” says Mike Winslow. “For me, it really means a lot that I can do this, and there is sort of a miraculous feeling about it too that leads to a sense of gratefulness.”

The surprise is that Mike, who has looked up to Dave since they were together in school and on sports teams, is the one best-suited to help his big brother. Both have a mild form of an inherited blood disorder known as thalassemia, so their younger siblings Barry and Joe — who are unaffected by it — were initially considered potentially better donor options. Neither Barry nor Joe were a match, however, so Dave’s Dana-Farber transplant team — led by oncologist Gregory Abel, MD, MPH, and transplant specialist Vincent Ho, MD – checked the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match Registry® of 33 million potential donors for an unrelated donor. They didn’t find a match there either, so they got an HLA type from Mike.

A perfect match.

“It really was kind of a miracle,” says Dave, who was initially treated at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center at Milford Regional Medical Center by Mona Kaddis, MD, who remains part of his care team. “The whole thing is very emotional, and it gets more emotional the nearer it gets.”

From left to right: brothers Dave, Mike, Barry, and Joe. Dave is slated to receive an allogeneic stem cell transplant in September 2019, with Mike set to serve as the donor.

Sharing a run, then marrow stem cells

Dave has been dealing with the effects of thalassemia his entire life. A genetic disorder of red blood cell, it leads to chronic anemia.

When Dave felt a mass in his abdomen in December 2013 due to an enlarging spleen, and it was diagnosed two months later as myelofibrosis, he saw it simply as another obstacle to overcome. The myelofibrosis has progressed in recent years, making his anemia worse and leading to more and more blood transfusions. His wife Kathy Doyle-Winslow says he never complains and is “always incredibly upbeat,” working two jobs, gardening, golfing, and serving as president of their local dog club.

“He hasn’t let his disease knock him down,” says Kathy. “Dave is my husband, my best friend, and my hero.”

Stephanie Mailman, their daughter, says she admires her dad because even when he’s not feeling his best, he gets on the floor to play with his young grandchildren. Son Mark Winslow insists that “Dad doesn’t have an off-switch,” although Mark will handle all the field work for the family’s energy auditing business while Dave is home recovering after his transplant.

Pre-transplant, the family will gather August 18 on Cape Cod in another celebration of life – running in the 47th annual New Balance Falmouth Road Race to support patient care and research at Dana-Farber. Kathy, Mike, brother Joe, Mark, and son-in-law Kyle Mailman will all take part, and Dave has gotten the go-ahead from Abel and Ho to join them.

Dave Winslow.

All will be representing Team Lanzoni, a dedicated group of 99 Restaurant employees, including Mike, who participate to honor their colleague Dave Lanzoni. Along with nearly 325 Dana-Farber teammates from New England and beyond, they will cover the seven-mile course with a goal of raising more than $1 million this year. Stephanie, who completed the same race in 2018 for her dad, will cheer them from the sidelines with her sons Benjamin (3) and Jacob (2 months) and around 20 other family members and friends.

“We have made great progress in the field of stem cell transplantation over the last two decades,” says Ho. “Dave’s prospect for a cure of his myelofibrosis is very good, especially with his perfectly-matched brother as the donor and incredible family support.”