SAHMRI expert saves the lives of a Sydney-based mother and her new baby

02 Nov 2017
SAHMRI expert saves the lives of a Sydney-based mother and her new baby

Discovering her cancer and pregnancy just two days apart, Elle Halliwell faced a heartbreaking decision — start lifesaving treatment, but lose her baby.

It took a trailblazing doctor from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute to save the lives of both Ms Halliwell and her now 11-month-old son.

Eighteen months ago, Ms Halliwell, 32, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia, a slow-growing cancer that begins in the bone marrow. Then, two days after her diagnosis, Ms Halliwell and husband Nick Biasotto discovered she was also pregnant.

After specialists from Sydney advised Ms Halliwell her best chance of survival was to abort her baby and begin a course of tyrosine kinase inhibitors, or TKIs, which are effective in treating CML but cannot be used during pregnancy, she and her husband turned to Professor Timothy Hughes, a haematologist and Precision Medicine Theme Leader at SAHMRI.

“We’d heard Timothy Hughes was the best of the best and if he said there was a possibility we could keep the baby, then that would help us decide,” Ms Halliwell said.

“He said it wasn’t unreasonable for us to want to keep the baby and that gave us that little bit more confidence.”

Professor Hughes, who last month won the prestigious GSK Award for Research Excellence for his work on CML, worked closely with Halliwell’s haematologist as she began a course of Interferon, which is safe for use during pregnancy. When Ms Halliwell reached 36 weeks pregnant, on December 13, 2016, her son Tor Felix Biasotto came into the world.

Ms Halliwell has since begun TKI treatment. “He’s testament that ... research like his can change people’s lives.”

This story was reproduced with permission from The Advertiser.