A young woman who almost died of cancer gives birth after an innovative treatment
A young woman with cancer who feared chemotherapy had left her sterile has welcomed her ‘miracle’ baby.
Sammy Gray, 26, has become one of the first women in the UK to give birth following a pioneering treatment called CAR-T cell therapy, which trained his body to fight disease.
Ms Gray’s first sign of cancer was chest pains and night sweats shortly after the birth of her daughter Harper in 2018.
Doctors feared the first mother, from Blackpool, had suffered a blood clot, but actually discovered a mass on her chest.
Tests showed it was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system.
Ms Gray underwent both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which shrank her tumour. But then the cancer became more aggressive and progressed.
Running out of treatment options by 2019, doctors at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester decided to try CAR-T (chimeric antigen receptor T-cell) cell therapy, which had only been approved by the NHS than a year ago.
Sammy Gray underwent innovative cancer treatment before she could conceive son Walter, pictured here with partner Daley and their eldest child Harper
Ms Gray feared that she had been left sterile following the grueling cancer treatments she had to undergo, but luckily that was not the case.
The young mother said she now wants to ‘make the most of every minute’ with Walter
Test for rare eye cancer in unborn babies rolled out across NHS
A genetic test to detect a rare form of eye cancer in babies in the womb is being rolled out across the NHS.
The test detects babies with retinoblastoma and is likely to identify around 50 cases each year in England.
Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer that can affect young children, usually under the age of five.
If detected early, the disease can often be successfully treated and more than nine out of 10 children who have it are cured.
However, if the cancer is not detected, it can lead to the loss of one or both eyes, or even death.
The new non-invasive NHS test, developed at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, can detect genetic changes that cause retinoblastoma.
It will be offered to pregnant women with a known family history of the disease, often mentioned during pregnancy appointments,
A blood test will look for a mutation in the RB1 gene. About nine out of ten children born with an RB1 mutation develop retinoblastoma.
Detecting the cancer so early means treatment can begin on the affected eye as soon as the baby is born, with doctors closely monitoring the other eye for any signs.
The test can also predict whether the disease might develop in siblings.
Siani Bainbridge, 22, from County Durham, had retinoblastoma as a child and feared her toddler son Oscar might also be a carrier of the faulty gene.
She participated in the test trial and discovered that Oscar had retinoblastoma.
She said: “As the tumors were quite severe when he was born, the fact that he could be treated immediately definitely affected his outcome. It was good to know that the day he was diagnosed, it was ready, ready.
Just a week after his birth, Oscar began cancer treatment, which involved chemotherapy and then laser therapy.
While doctors could not save sight in one eye, he did not have his eyeball removed and retained sight in the other eye.
NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The introduction of this pioneering new test is fantastic news for babies and their parents, and has the potential to save hundreds of lives over the next few years.”
CAR-T is a type of immunotherapy that involves reprogramming the patient’s own immune system cells.
These cells then act to target the cancer.
The treatment carries risks but has been successful in curing some patients, even those with fairly advanced cancers where other treatment options have failed.
Ms Gray donated a blood sample which was sent to the United States where her T-cells were genetically modified.
These were then put back into his body via a drip in September, in the hopes they would boost his immune system’s natural response to cancer.
The grueling treatment made Ms Gray very ill but, after a month, she was allowed to go home.
The treatment worked and three, six and 12 month scans gave it the all clear, showing no signs of cancer.
Cancer treatments can make women infertile and Ms Gray missed her period for a year while on treatment.
But, along with her partner, Daley, she desperately wanted a second child to complete her family, and so sought NHS approval for IVF fertility treatment.
The couple had just started the process when they conceived naturally.
Their son Walter was born on February 23 this year.
Ms Gray said: ‘I wasn’t petrified to die, but I was petrified to leave Harper behind.
“It’s been an incredibly tough few years and I missed a lot of my first taste of motherhood when Harper was a baby.
“The chemotherapy made me very sick so I couldn’t take care of my little girl, so Daley, my fiancé, had to be a full-time dad.
“I’m determined to make the most of every minute with Walter. I don’t mind sleepless nights at all and I appreciate all the little things.
“I’m enjoying the time with him that cancer stole with Harper.
“Walter is our little miracle. If it wasn’t for the CAR-T treatment at the Christie, none of us would be here now.
Professor Adrian Bloor, consultant haematologist at Christie’s, said: ‘Sammy’s cancer was very difficult to treat and there were very few treatment options.
“CAR-T therapy is a relatively new treatment for certain aggressive blood cancers, where the patient’s immune cells are ‘trained’ to fight the cancer.
“Sammy was one of our first CAR-T patients, and at the time the youngest.
“The treatment saved her life and it’s fantastic that she is still in remission and has had a baby.” We all wish him and his family the best for the future.
There are around 14,000 diagnosed cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and nearly 5,000 deaths from this type of cancer in the UK each year, according to Cancer Research UK.
In the United States, an estimated 760,000 people live with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma according to government statistics.
Only 55% of people diagnosed with this type of cancer survive for 10 years or more.