IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Patient Gets Good News From Groundbreaking Cancer Treatment

Patient Story

Lori Ann Haalck was one of the first adult patients at IU Health to receive a new gene therapy. She recently received a good report – the therapy is working.

She sat in the exam room of Dr. Michael Robertson at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. The room was familiar to Lori Ann Haalck. Since before Christmas, she has made the visit to her oncologist daily, and then it tapered off to weekly visits.

Haalck wears a protective mask to the hospital. She’s not taking any chances during flu season. In fact, she’s taking every precaution necessary to avoid germs that may attack her compromised immune system. She even left her house in the wee hours of the morning to stay with a family member when a nasty flu bug hit her home.

But on a recent Thursday morning, Haalck never felt better. Just days earlier a biopsy came back showing no lymphoma and on this day, Dr. Robertson entered the room with a big grin. “Your numbers are up by two points,” he said. “That’s a positive thing. I don’t think we need to see you back for two more weeks.”

The news was exactly what Haalck had hoped for. It’s been a long time coming.

Haalck’s journey started in March of 2017. She was having back pain that was like nothing she’s every experienced. She first went to her family practitioner near her Howard County home. She ended up in ER and tests confirmed she had Diffuse large B-Cell lymphoma (DLBCL or DLBL), a cancer of B cells – the white blood cells responsible for producing antibodies. According to the National Cancer Institute, it is the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma among adults and accounts for about 4.3 percent of all new cancer cases.

“I don’t know what are typical symptoms because mine started in the bone. I felt the pain on my left side,” said Haalck. She first completed six weeks of R-Chop chemotherapy – a monoclonal antibody drug, a group of targeted therapies. Within a month, she relapsed and the cancer was in her right femur. In December of 2017 she had a stem cell transplant and was clear for nine months. Then the cancer returned.

That’s when she became a candidate for a groundbreaking gene therapy known as CAR-T cell. IU Health is the only site in Indiana to administer the treatment. CAR-T gene therapy uses custom-made cells to attack a patient’s own specific cancer. It allows doctors to isolate T-lymphocyte cells – the body’s cells that fight infections and are active in immune response. The T cells are then engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that targets a protein on a patient’s cancer cells, attaches to them and eventually kills them.

Learn more about CAR T-cell therapy at IU Health.

“This has been emotionally draining but I have had amazing support from my family and I rely on my faith,” said Haalck, who is married to Heath Haalck, a captain with the Kokomo Police Department. They are the parents of two daughters – Alyssa, 22 and Brooke, 19. “When Dr. Robertson told me I needed to go for the biopsy, I knew it had to happen but I was scared. He was so compassionate and rolled his chair over close to me and gave me assurance. When I got the results, I cried and I think he was near tears too,” said Haalck.

Physically, Haalck said she feels great and her body is getting back to its normal energy level. “The hardest part is staying home so I can steer clear of germs. I do devotions, watch TV, and cook a lot because my appetite is back,” said Haalck. She’s looking forward to getting back to work as a stylist at La Revive Salon and Day Spa, and planning a vacation.

“Mostly, I’m looking forward to socializing with family and friends and going out to dinner with my husband. It’s been a long time.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

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