Sammy Gray, 26, a patient at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, who nearly died from cancer 3 years ago, is believed to be one of the first CAR-T therapy patients in the UK to give birth following the innovative treatment that cleared her body of cancer.
In January 2018, shortly after Sammy had her first child, a daughter called Harper, she began to experience chest pains and night sweats. Initially thinking it was a blood clot related to the birth, doctors then discovered a mass on her chest which was diagnosed as non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. Sammy, then 21, missed out on motherhood as she underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy which initially shrunk the tumour, but then the cancer became more aggressive and progressed.
By June 2019, faced with a very poor prognosis, the only option remaining to Sammy, who is from Blackpool in Lancashire, was CAR-T therapy. This new treatment, which was only approved by the NHS in 2018, involves reprogramming the patient's own immune cells, called T cells, which are then used to recognise and destroy their cancer.
The treatment involves taking a sample of the patient’s blood, sending it to a laboratory in the United States where the T cells are genetically modified to intensify the immune system's natural response to cancer, and putting them back into the patient through an intravenous infusion.
Sammy underwent the gruelling therapy in September 2019, which involved spending weeks in hospital while her body’s own immune system attacked the cancer. Despite the procedure making her very poorly, she recovered and was well enough to go home after a month. Thankfully the treatment worked and her scans at 3, 6 and 12 months were all clear, showing no signs of cancer.
Doctors warned that the chemotherapy could result in early menopause for Sammy, meaning she may not be able to have more children. After not having periods for a year, she feared she’d become infertile. Along with her partner, Daley, she desperately wanted a second child to complete their family, so she was approved by the NHS for IVF fertility treatment. The couple had just started the process when they conceived naturally. 2 and half years after she endured the CAR-T treatment her baby son, Walter, was born on 23 February 2022.
Photo credit: Kelly Couttie Photography
Sammy explained, “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 fiancé, 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.”
The Christie NHS Foundation Trust was the first specialist trust to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ twice (in 2016 and 2018) by the health regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC). It referred to The Christie as ‘a leader in cancer care’ and ‘a pioneer in developing innovative solutions to cancer care.’ The CQC praised the Trust’s staff which it said ‘go the extra mile to meet the needs of patients and their families’ and that they were ‘exceptionally kind and caring.’ In 2017, the CQC rated The Christie as the best specialist trust in the country, and one of the top three trusts overall in England.