Rowan Gundlach was born with two holes in his heart and underwent open-heart surgery at just 4 months old. Over the years, he grew normally, but during a regular checkup in March 2021, doctors noticed he looked pale. Doctors ordered blood tests and said they’d call Rowan’s mother, Carmen, with the results. “I knew something was wrong, because the doctor doesn’t usually call you back themselves,” she said.
Rowan’s levels were dangerously low, and his mother rushed him to Children’s Wisconsin, where they were admitted to the cancer ward. A bone marrow biopsy ruled out leukemia, so Rowan was referred to the hematology department; they, in turn, sent him to the team that manages bone marrow transplants.
In May 2021, doctors performed another biopsy and bone marrow panel and diagnosed Rowan with aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder in which a patient’s bone marrow doesn’t make enough blood cells. From March 2021 to April 2022, Rowan received 54 units of platelets and 19 units of red blood cells to help manage his disease.
On August 6, 2021, Rowan received a bone marrow transplant from a donor in Germany. “He had the perfect match—10 out of 10,” Carmen says. At first, his health improved, but it quickly went downhill, with Rowan experiencing a high temperature, rash and weakness. After two weeks of monitoring and testing, doctors figured he was experiencing engraftment syndrome, but eventually they came to a devastating conclusion: Rowan had rejected his transplant.
Rowan’s parents, siblings and uncle were all tested as potential matches, but as of March 2023, he has not received another transplant. His blood counts look good, and doctors continue to monitor his condition. Carmen credits blood and platelet transfusions with helping to keep up his strength. “It means everything. If he didn’t get the blood or platelets, it could’ve been catastrophic,” she says. “It was a Band-Aid, but a lifesaving Band-Aid at the same time.”
Carmen herself has benefited from a kidney transplant, and encourages people to give back in any way they can, whether it’s by joining the organ and tissue donor registry or donating blood. “There are all types of people who require these to sustain life,” she says. “I use the example of my son; we lived in the hospital for weeks. There were 3-month-old babies, all the way up to 18-year-olds. They all required blood, they all required platelets.
“Think about your son or daughter, or your grandchildren or husband, needing it. You’re saving their life,” she says.
People need people, make a difference in someone’s life by donating blood.
We must rely on each other for the gift of blood, and patients in your community rely on the generosity of Versiti’s blood donors to help. Please consider scheduling an appointment to donate. If this is your first time, donating blood is quick, easy and relatively painless. And, it is a great way to give back and help patients in your community.