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Zac Oliver: Shropshire boy cancer free after US treatment

Zac Oliver Image copyright Hannah Oliver-Willets
Image caption Zac is believed to be the only child in the UK with a rare strain of the disease

A four-year-old boy who had pioneering treatment in the United States for a rare strain of leukaemia is now cancer free.

In a video on Facebook, Zac Oliver told his thousands of followers: “Guess what everyone, I have no cancer.”

Zac and his family, from Shropshire, travelled to Philadelphia after raising £500,000 for travel and treatment.

His father Mark Garbett said: “We couldn’t have wished for it to go any better.”

Zac, from Broseley, was diagnosed with a particularly rare strain of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in May 2018 that affects only one in 200 childhood leukaemia patients worldwide.

He was taken to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in November, where doctors said its 17-week CAR T-cell therapy would give Zac a 60% to 80% chance of survival.

A high-profile campaign to get to the family to the US received a £50,000 boost from Simon Cowell and £100,000 from a mystery donor.

Zac’s family claimed he was not eligible for treatment in the UK because his condition did not meet criteria set by the NHS.

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Media captionA mystery person boosted the family’s appeal with a £100,000 donation

Zac’s T-cells were harvested as part of the therapy, which involves using patients’ own immune cells to treat their cancer.

Speaking to the BBC, his father said medics genetically modified his immune system and “trained it to go and hunt and fight cancer”.

He said the family had been “confident” it would be successful but added: “We were trying not to think of what would happen if it didn’t work.”

Zac came back to the UK while the hospital engineered the cells and then returned for the next stage.

This week, the family were given the news at the hospital the treatment had worked and they travelled back home yesterday.

“Everything that they said that they expected to happen – and all the processes they expected us to go through – happened,” said Mr Garbett.

“There were very minimal side effects, he was very lucky in that respect, and a month after they gave him the re-infusion they broke the news to us that he was in remission and was cancer free.”

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Media caption‘We’re not prepared to wait for our son to relapse’

Zac will travel back to Philadelphia in spring for a biopsy to check if he is still in remission, with three-monthly trips to follow for a year.

Describing the last few months as a “rollercoaster”, Mr Garbett said Zac had had “good and bad days” but that he had been transformed in the last few weeks.

“He’s up and about, running around – he’s the Zac we used to know, so full of energy again.

“He’s cancer free, and we are praying it will stay that way.”


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