Emily Whitehead, then five years old, had just returned from her pediatrician after a well-check exam in 2010.
A week later, though, Emily’s mother, Kari, realized that her daughter had bruises all over her body, including her back and stomach. Her gums began bleeding, and the agony was so severe that she was waking up often throughout the night.
Kari, aged 46, looked up her symptoms online and discovered that she was experiencing the hallmarks of leukemia. Emily was taken to the doctor the next day by her and her husband, Tom, 53.
Several days later, she was told she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Penn State Health specialists in Hershey, Pennsylvania, suggested a 26-month course of chemotherapy for Emily.
Particularly trying were the first few weeks under the new system. In addition to Emily’s frequent fevers, she also suffered from a rare illness that almost cost her both legs.
Still, a month after the difficulties began, Emily’s cancer went into remission.
Kari reflected on the family’s difficult beginnings, saying, “Doctors stated when chemotherapy works for these kids, it works.”
However, Emily had a recurrence in October 2011 at the age of 6 and was given a 30% chance of survival.
It was far more upsetting than her first diagnosis, Tom added. I promised Emily that if I had to go scrounging around the North Pole to get help, I would.
Tom brought Emily for a second opinion at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
Although she spent the most of the subsequent four months in the hospital getting ready for a bone marrow transplant in February 2012, Tom and Kari started phoning specialists to find out about alternative treatment options.
Said, “God, if you’re up there, we need assistance right now,” was the prayer I was offering. I was dozing off but not quite asleep when I had a startling encounter with Emily at CHOP. Tom reflected, “And I could see her becoming better.
A power company’s lead lineman named Tom wrote a book titled “Praying for Emily: The Faith, Science, and Miracles that Saved Our Daughter” after seeing visions of Emily’s recovery.
Tom saw visions that assured him Emily would be OK.
Now 17 years old, Emily remembers how her parents always sought ways to bring a grin to her face. Something “very unique,” in her words.
Emily’s health deteriorated to the point that she was no longer a transplant candidate by the end of February. The family was now entirely out of choices.
However, there was some encouraging news from CHOP. According to Emily’s physicians, CHOP’s Phase 1 clinical study for CAR T-Cell treatment in children was authorized by the FDA and other committees after a year of submitting the necessary papers.
When Emily was diagnosed, she was the first patient in her age group.
There were a lot of potential downsides to the therapy, but it beat the option of sending Emily home to die in hospice.
Tom’s predictions on the efficacy of CAR T-cell treatment were spot on. Twenty-three days after beginning therapy, on May 10, 2012, a bone marrow test confirmed that Emily was no longer cancerous.
“After all that she’d gone through, it was a tremendous shock,” Kari added. Quite simply, “we were giddy with anticipation.”
Emily’s oncologist, the director of the Susan S. and Stephen P. Kelly Center for Cancer Immunotherapy, Dr Stephan Grupp, expressed doubt that Emily would survive. But by some miracle, it seems that cancer has wholly vanished.
In CAR T-cell therapy, T-cells are extracted from the patient and genetically engineered in a lab over the course of three weeks to train them on how to attack the disease. After they have been primed, the patient’s T-cells will be reintroduced into their circulation.
Over 15,000 individuals with blood cancer have been treated successfully throughout the globe since Emily.
In other words, one may claim this is a whole new area of medicine. Dr Grupp recently said, “Now we only have to discover the appropriate mix to cure all forms of cancer.”
Emily, who just earned her license, has been cancer-free since then. In May, upon reaching the age of 17, she was deemed healed. She has been cancer-free for ten years!
Emily Whitehead’s parents and siblings established a charity in 2015 to promote research into effective therapies for children’s cancer and assist families coping with the disease.
Emily emphasized the need to raise public understanding regarding CAR T-cell therapy. I really believe it is a miracle that I am still alive.