Blackpool mother who almost died of cancer has son thanks to innovative CAR-T treatment

A mother who almost died of cancer has become one of the first in the UK to give birth following an innovative treatment.

Sammy Gray, 26, thought chemotherapy had left her infertile, but after having cell therapy, which trained her body to fight back against the disease, she has now had a son.

The gruelling treatment - chimeric antigen receptor T-cell or CAR-T - is a type of immunotherapy which involves reprogramming the patient’s own immune system cells.

The mother, from Blackpool, said she owes the Christie in Manchester both her life and of her son Walter.

Sammy said: "I kind of knew this was my last chance and I needed it to work, but when you get told that you're all clear you don't believe it.

"Even now, two years down the line, I'm still pinching myself thinking 'is this real?'"

She added: "Walter is our little miracle. If it wasn’t for the CAR-T treatment at the Christie neither of us would be here now."

Sammy is believed to be one of the first in the UK to give birth following the innovative treatment that cleared her body of cancer.

Sammy first experienced chest pains and night sweats in 2018 shortly after the birth of her first child, Harper.

Doctors initially thought it may be a blood clot related to birth, but then discovered a mass on the then 21-year-old's chest which was diagnosed as non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an uncommon cancer that develops in the lymphatic system.

Despite undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which initially cut the size of the tumour, the cancer became so aggressive she quickly ran out of options.

But, in June 2019, medics at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester decided to try CAR-T cell therapy.

The treatment was only approved on the NHS in 2018, and reprogrammes the body's T-cells to recognise and destroy the cancer.

It carries risks but has managed to cure some patients, even those with quite advanced cancers and where other treatment options have failed.

Sammy says she 'missed out on a lot' while Harper was young as she underwent chemotherapy in 2019.

Sammy's blood sample was sent to the US, where her cells were genetically modified, and in September 2019, they were then put back into her body via a drip.

It was hoped they would boost her immune system's natural response to cancer.

The gruelling treatment made Sammy feel very ill but, after a month, she was allowed to go home.

The treatment worked and her three, six and 12-month scans gave her the all-clear, showing no signs of cancer.

Sammy was warned the treatment could result in early menopause, leaving her infertile, and she did not have periods for a year.

But, along with her partner, Daley, she desperately wanted a second child to complete her family, and was approved by the NHS for IVF fertility treatment.

The couple had just started the process when they conceived naturally, and their son Walter was born on 23 February 2022.

Sammy says: "I thought I was going to die allI could think about was I can’t die because I have a daughter that can’t be on her own without her mum, that was all I was thinking about.

"At 21 you expect to have maybe another child and to be told I might not have another I was angry, I was really angry.

"I wanted more children so it meant the world to me to have another baby, and I wanted one of each, if I could, just to complete the family and I feel like after everything we’ve been through we deserved that.

"I don’t even remember coming down the stairs and telling Daley, it’s a blur, it was like 'is this actually happening after everything I’ve been through, am I actually pregnant?'"

Baby Walter was born in February after Sammy was told she may not ever be able to have children again.

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.”