A young woman who almost died of cancer has become one of the first in the UK to give birth following an innovative treatment.
Sammy Gray, 26, feared chemotherapy had left her infertile but has gone on to have a son after CAR-T cell therapy trained her body to fight back against the disease.
Ms Gray first experienced chest pains and night sweats in 2018 shortly after the birth of her first child, a daughter called Harper.
Worried that it may be a blood clot, doctors actually discovered a mass on her chest which was diagnosed as non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an uncommon cancer that develops in the lymphatic system.
Ms Gray underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which initially cut the size of the tumour, but then the cancer became more aggressive and progressed.
By June 2019, she was out of treatment options but medics at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester decided to try CAR-T cell therapy, which was only approved on the NHS in 2018.
CAR-T (chimeric antigen receptor T-cell) is a type of immunotherapy which involves reprogramming the patient’s own immune system cells.
These cells then work to target the cancer. The treatment carries risks but has managed to cure some patients, even those with quite advanced cancers and where other treatment options have failed.
Ms Gray, who is from Blackpool in Lancashire, gave a blood sample that was sent to the US where her T-cells were genetically modified.
These were then put back into her body via a drip in the September, with the hope they would boost her immune system’s natural response to cancer.
The gruelling treatment made Ms Gray feel very ill but, after a month, she was allowed to go home.
The treatment worked and three, six and 12-month scans gave her the all-clear, showing no signs of cancer.
Cancer treatments can leave women infertile and Ms Gray did not have periods for a year.
But, along with her partner, Daley, she desperately wanted a second child to complete her family, and so sought approval from the NHS 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 of dying but I was petrified of leaving Harper behind.
“It has been an incredibly tough few years and I missed out on so much of my first taste of motherhood when Harper was a baby.
“The chemotherapy made me very ill so I couldn’t look after my baby daughter, so Daley, my fiance, had to be a full-time dad.
“I’m determined to make the most of every minute with Walter. The sleepless nights don’t bother me 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 neither of us would be here now.”
Professor Adrian Bloor, consultant haematologist at the Christie 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 some 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 that time the youngest.
“The treatment saved her life and it’s fantastic that she remains in remission and has had a baby. We all wish her and her family all the best for the future.”