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We Honor the 2019 MPN Heroes

You nominated them for making a difference in the lives of people living with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). Their actions made them heroes. Hear their personal stories and learn why the 2019 MPN Heroes were acknowledged for their commitment to MPN care.

Image of Tammy Matuska, BSN, RN




Tammy Matuska is a Nurse Coordinator in the Hematology & Oncology department at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. Her duties as a member of the hematology clinic include organizing infusion appointments, scheduling testing, and assisting with complicated paperwork for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). Tammy goes beyond her responsibilities as a coordinator, working outside of her long hospital hours to contact insurance companies and ensure that her patients have access to proper care.

In addition to being an excellent nurse coordinator, Tammy is a passionate patient advocate. Her dedication to furthering education about MPNs led her to organize an informational dinner for patients and their families. The event was sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and was attended by over 100 people in the MPN community. The first education dinner was so successful that there was demand for a second dinner the following year to answer questions about important topics related to life with an MPN. Tammy hopes to continue patient outreach and start a regular support group for people with MPNs. As she’s seen firsthand, many people living with MPNs are hungry for assistance, community, and information.

When she’s not advocating for her patients or organizing educational events, Tammy and her husband enjoy watching professional baseball, college athletics, and spending time with their five grandchildren.

Image of Cannon McMullin – Patient Advocate


Patient Advocate


Cannon McMullin was diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia (ET) at 8 years old and has now been living with his disease for over three years. The youngest child in his family, Cannon lives with his parents who do their best to help him live a normal life. Cannon travels regularly for testing and check-ins with his pediatric oncology care team and keeps a positive attitude when dealing with his diagnosis and the difficulties involved in his care. As part of an ongoing study, Cannon understands that although the research he's contributing to may not help him directly, the value of this study may help other people with ET in the future. As Cannon says, “I have to be a part of this if it can help someone, anyone.”

Cannon enjoys playing point guard for his school’s basketball team, kayaking with his family, and playing video games. He demonstrates incredible courage, refusing to let his diagnosis define his life. Cannon is an example to everyone with a rare blood cancer and a reminder to live each day to its fullest.

Image of  Robyn Scherber MD, MPH




Dr. Robyn Scherber is a clinician and hematologist in San Antonio, TX, where she actively works to advance science devoted to myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). Dr. Scherber is a tireless researcher who helped develop the MPN Symptom Assessment Form (the MPN-SAF), which is used to evaluate patients in clinical trials, hospital intake, and various other medical settings. Her invaluable research into chronic MPN-related fatigue and the symptom burden of MPNs has helped thousands of people quantify their symptoms related to MPNs. Dr. Scherber is focused on empowering people living with MPNs to track their own symptoms and evaluate their experiences with their healthcare team. Dr. Scherber has also been a part of the Mays Cancer Center family education program to share her knowledge with the families of people with MPNs. She is nationally recognized as a medical expert in MPNs and regularly takes part in educational activities and passes on her understanding of MPNs by speaking at conferences, such as the MPN Advocacy & Education International’s Women & MPN Conference.

Image of  Kurt Schroeder, RN




As a research nurse in Houston, TX, Kurt Schroeder is a passionate advocate for his patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). Kurt works hard to make sure that every patient who visits the Leukemia department receives excellent care. He works with a simple motto: “How would I want my family member to be treated if they came in here?”

Kurt pushes for inclusive wording in protocols and less-restrictive monitoring in studies in order to include more patients in important research studies. He makes creative suggestions to help every patient comply with their individual care plan within the study requirements. Kurt’s advocacy doesn’t stop at the hospital doors—he gladly hands out his cell phone number and takes calls during his days off to ensure that his patients find the answers and care they need. Kurt has an innate drive to be present and supportive for his patients, ensuring that he goes above and beyond to help however possible.

Image of Natalie Catalano – Caregiver




Natalie Catalano’s daughter, Carmen, was diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia (ET) at 17 years old. During the long road to identifying Carmen’s condition as a rare blood cancer, Natalie persistently advocated for her daughter’s care. Even though the diagnosis process took years to figure out, she supported her daughter every step of the way. On the journey towards the correct diagnosis, Natalie was an unrelenting partner for her daughter. With her steadfast care and attention, Carmen found her mother to be a continual source of strength and inspiration. After the diagnosis, Natalie devoted herself to Carmen’s well-being. She took on all of the physical and emotional work associated with being a caregiver to someone with a rare blood cancer, and made it a point to help Carmen maintain dignity and grace while in the hospital. Natalie is addressing her daughter’s needs with unending patience and a heroic level of commitment.

Natalie’s family is active and adventurous and goes out of their way to make sure Carmen isn’t defined by her diagnosis as a person living with a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN). In order to include her daughter, Natalie makes sure to connect with her and is prepared to be an attentive care provider anywhere—especially now that Carmen is in college. Natalie embodies the qualities of an MPN Hero with her faithful care and steadfast attentiveness to her daughter.

Image of Madeleine Henriquez, PA-C




Madeleine Henriquez is a physician assistant in the Leukemia department at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, who decided to take on additional training as a mental health first aid professional. Caring for patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), Madeleine realized that there was a gap in care—the symptom burden of their diseases sometimes created mental health–related issues that could go undiagnosed and untreated. Madeleine decided to step up and take on the extra duties related to patient mental health. As part of the inaugural class of mental health first aid workers, she is treating an often overlooked psychological aspect of living with a rare blood cancer.

A Houston native, Madeleine is married to her high school sweetheart and enjoys yoga, running, and gardening in her free time. Madeleine’s work colleagues agree that she is fulfilling a vital role in patient care and is helping patients with MPNs at MD Anderson Cancer Center cope with the realities of their diagnosis. She has helped to lift the stigma on mental health and furthered a wholesome approach to treatment of patients with rare blood cancers.

Image of Irum Khan, MD




Dr. Irum Khan, a specialist in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and related diseases, has dedicated herself to helping two groups of marginalized patients: people living with MPNs and people without resources to independently manage their own care. In her practice, Dr. Khan works with social workers, charitable organizations, and medical foundations to help her patients manage hidden costs of extended care like transportation and nutrition. Sometimes the cost of bus fare can make the difference between a person receiving care or suffering due to lack of funds. Dr. Khan is working tirelessly to make sure every person living with an MPN, regardless of money or status, receives the care they require.

Dr. Khan also makes it a point to pay attention to the psychological toll of MPNs in her patients. Moving beyond symptoms that can be difficult to track or measure, Dr. Khan is always committed to delving into issues beyond the symptoms people might expect from the diagnosis of an MPN. The symptom burden associated with a rare blood cancer can lead to a host of mental health issues and Dr. Khan has made it her mission to help patients manage not only their symptoms, but also any psychological effects such as depression and anxiety.

When she isn’t aiding homeless, incarcerated, or underinsured patients, Dr. Khan spends time with her family. She is also active in the local Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and speaks regularly at educational events for patients living with an MPN and their families. Dr. Khan’s courage in helping people who need care and lack means is a shining example of what it means to be an MPN Hero.

Image of Dr. Laura C. Michaelis




Dr. Laura Michaelis, a specialist in hematology and oncology, has a mission statement to live up to when she’s treating patients: “deliver superb care in a compassionate, individualized manner.” As someone caring for people living with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), Dr. Michaelis goes above and beyond to offer outstanding healthcare in and outside of the clinic. Dr. Michaelis is a proponent of her hospital’s 24-hour transfusion and evaluation access point—a kind of emergency room designated specially for people with rare blood disorders—providing an excellent standard of round-the-clock care for hematology/oncology patients.

Dr. Michaelis is also a firm believer in passing along her expertise. According to Dr. Michaelis, “the biggest things I can do as a doctor are: help, communicate, and teach.” In order to carry her mission statement and share knowledge outside of hospital walls, Dr. Michaelis regularly speaks to MPN patient support groups to provide important information and answers in a more personal setting.

Outside of her medical practice, Dr. Michaelis is an avid baseball fan, painter, and traveler. An experienced news reporter before she decided to dedicate herself to medicine, Dr. Michaelis serves as Editor-in-Chief for the American Society of Hematology official member news magazine, Hematologist.

2019 Judging Panel

An independent judging panel reviewed the nominations and selected the recipients for recognition. The panel consisted of:

Image of David Denny – Patient Advocate


Patient Advocate

The Voices of MPN community honors the late David Denny as a leader and positive influence for people living with myelofibrosis (MF). David was a veteran contributor to the MPN Heroes® Recognition Program and was recognized as an MPN Hero in 2015. Diagnosed with primary myelofibrosis in September 2013, David was an avid MPN patient advocate. He was an administrator on the Myelofibrosis Private Support Group and was active on the MPNforum and other support groups. He interacted with the MPN community regularly through daily emails and messages of support. David had also been a leader in organizing a regional support group in Northeast Ohio. Along with elevating awareness of MPNs and the MPN patient journey, David Denny enjoyed spending time with his wife, Lola, his two adult children, and his four grandchildren.

David held a Bachelor of Arts degree in Behavioral Science from Cedarville University and a Master of Divinity degree from the Baptist Bible School of Theology. David served as the pastor of Whipple Ave Baptist Church in Canton, Ohio, since 2007. He spent a total of 33 years in pastoral ministry. David also had 13 years of experience in service to people with disabilities. His legacy will be carried on by those who were inspired by his devotion to others affected by MPNs.

Image of Mary Dunkle


Patient Advocate

Mary Dunkle has dedicated the last 20 years to improving the lives of those affected by rare diseases, during which she held key leadership roles at National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). Prior to her recent retirement from NORD, she served as a Senior Advisor with a primary focus on supporting the development of educational resources for patients, medical professionals, students preparing for health-related careers, and the public.

Mary joined NORD in 1999 as Senior Director of Communications and later was promoted to Vice President. She was responsible for the organization’s website, social media, and publications. She was one of the primary NORD editors for a medical textbook on rare diseases published in 2003, the NORD Guide to Rare Disorders. Mary also oversaw NORD’s Research Grants Program and its Patient/Caregiver Information Center for several years.

In 2016, Mary became the Vice President of Educational Initiatives, leading the department responsible for educational resources that included NORD’s Rare Disease Database and its annual conference, the NORD Rare Diseases and Orphan Products Breakthrough Summit.

A continuing theme in Mary’s career is journalism with an emphasis on education and interpreting medical information for a general audience. Before joining NORD, she was affiliated with the Pennsylvania State University for 11 years and served as Manager of Penn State’s award-winning news bureau, as well as Assistant Director of Public Relations for the university’s 22 campuses. She began her career at Penn State as a writer-editor in the office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.

In addition, Mary has been a Senior Writer for Greenwich (Connecticut) Hospital and Director of Public Relations for Danbury (Connecticut) Hospital.

Image of Dr. Andrew Kuykendall



Andrew Kuykendall is an Assistant Member in the Department of Malignant Hematology at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center with a co-appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Oncologic Sciences at the University of South Florida. Dr. Kuykendall focuses his clinical and research efforts on myeloid malignancies with a dedicated emphasis on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He has authored numerous publications that have addressed treatment trends, prognostic features, and clinical outcomes of patients with myelofibrosis. He serves as the primary investigator on multiple clinical trials that aim to bring novel therapeutic agents to patients with MPNs. He is a past participant of the American Association for Cancer Research/American Society of Clinical Oncology Methods in Clinical Cancer Research Workshop in Vail, Colorado. Dr. Kuykendall serves as a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines® for MPNs and Systemic Mastocytosis.

Dr. Kuykendall completed his undergraduate training at Wake Forest University, earned his MD from the University of Florida College of Medicine and completed his fellowship in Hematology and Medical Oncology at the University of South Florida/H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, where he served as Chief Fellow.

Image of Julia Olff, CHES – Patient Advocate


CHES, Patient Advocate

Julia Olff has been living with myelofibrosis (MF) since 2008. She was first diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia (ET) the prior year after routine blood work showed a high platelet count. Julia developed symptoms of MF over the past 6 years and has been on several treatments. She has been hospitalized several times for acute events and has undergone procedures to manage side effects of MF and treatment.

As a professional, Julia is also steeped in the world of healthcare. As a certified health educator, Julia identifies key patient unmet needs, and provides health education recommendations, and health literate design guidance to healthcare communications clients, and patient and healthcare professional organizations. Julia’s interactions with patients and families as a health educator, and while managing outpatient practices at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, fostered a deep appreciation for the patients’ viewpoint and for improving the patient experience.

Julia’s professional and personal path have led her to become an MPN patient advocate. Julia has served as a virtual webinar panelist, a speaker, a writer, and an advisory board member to MPN patient organizations such as Patient Power, LLC, and MPN Advocacy and Education International. Julia is also active in the MPN social media community and attends as many MPN patient conferences as she can each year to learn the latest research on MF from the experts and connect with other patients.

Julia volunteers as a First Connection Peer Volunteer for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) talking with people newly diagnosed with MPNs. Julia also serves as a family health navigator, researcher, and advocate to several family members with chronic diseases.

Julia recently moved to Jersey City, New Jersey with her husband and two cats. She can see the Freedom Tower in NYC from her apartment window and appreciates being able to walk and take in the sights of her active neighborhood. Julia also enjoys visits from her blended family of five young adult children and her three-year old grandchild. Julia is an avid foodie and food traveler. Her dream is to visit every region of France and Italy in her lifetime.

Image of Maureen Thyne, RPA-C



Maureen Thyne is a physician assistant at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. She received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University in human genetics, her graduate degree in physician assistant studies from St. John’s University, and is also a licensed cytogeneticist. She is originally from Vermont, is an avid Red Sox fan, and now lives in suburban NJ with her Yankee-fan better half and their dog (who she believes is definitely a Sox fan).