Avera Medical Minute: CAR T Treatment for cancer considered revolutionary

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - A groundbreaking treatment for cancer was rolled out in 99 cities in the US, one of them at Avera Hospital in Sioux Falls, the only hospital in the region to offer the treatment.

Cathy Hegg received CAR T treatment at Avera medical group Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Cathy Hegg says she believes in the power of prayer. Her friends and family provided the prayers and support she needed through five rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments. The struggle with Large B-cell lymphoma continued as she looked for another tool.

Friends and family say looking at Cathy today, it's hard to believe. She lost the ability to speak at one point. She was using a walker. Cathy says that CAR T treatment has changed her life.

Doctor Kelly McCaul, of Avera Hematology transplant, puts the treatment into perspective. "I tend to liken CAR T development to the development of penicillin, the development of insulin, said Doctor McCaul. "Major revolutionary changes such as the computer revolution, flight, it's that big."

Car T Treatment is primarily used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Acute Lymphoblastic leukemia.

"Car T is like a stem cell except they use the T cell, and they send it away to New Jersey, and they modify it, and then they put it back in their body. And it is supposed to be like a little warrior and fight the cancer," said McCaul.

The process genetically modifies the T cell, which is part of the white blood cell. This time, Cathy won the fight.

"I have had two pet scans and two bone marrows and they have both been 100 percent cancer-free," said Cathy.

Rather than the daily battle against cancer, she's getting back to a normal routine.

"I get to go back to work this fall at the Woonsocket school, and I have two grandsons that are twins that play football for Huron and we're going to every football game, and basketball, so life is good," said McCaul.

CAR T treatment has just been approved by the FDA. As the treatment is developing further, the hope is that it can also be a tool for solid tumors in the future.