Skip to main content UVA Health logo of UVA Health
Healthy Balance

When Chemo Failed, CAR T-Cell Therapy Took Away a Father’s Cancer

Bob Falter holds hands with his wife

Bob Falter is the light of his family. ”I can’t even imagine losing him,” his daughter shares.

That became a real possibility when Falter was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer, B-cell follicular lymphoma.

Fortunately, his doctor in Winchester referred him to UVA Cancer Center, Virginia’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Chemotherapy and other drug treatments couldn’t knock out his type of lymphoma. But UVA blood cancer experts had a secret weapon.

CAR T-Cell Therapy: Breakthrough Treatment Unleashed

A Navy veteran and financial planner, Falter enrolled in a clinical trial for CAR T-cell therapy.

Lymphoma Treatment at UVA Cancer Center

Our specialists offer expert treatment for lymphoma and compassionate support all along the way.

Indumathy Varadarajan, MD, known as Dr. Indu to her patients, explains how this 2-part therapy works. It’s available at very few places.

“We extract T cells and genetically modify them into super soldiers that can identify these tumor cells.

“And when we insert them back into the person suffering with cancer, they go directly to the tumor. They destroy the tumor in many instances and produce remarkable results.

“And that's what happened with Bob.”

No Signs of Cancer

When Dr. Indu showed Falter and his wife PET scan images, they saw no sign of cancer.

“I said, well, where is it, Dr. Indu? She said, ‘Tammy, it's gone.’ To me, that was a miracle.”

Watch this video of Falter, his family, Dr. Indu, and Craig Portell, MD — the blood cancer experts who helped him get his ‘wonderful life’ back.

View Transcript

My name is Bob Falter, and I was in the Navy for 22 years. Now I'm a financial planner. I've been married for 25 years to a wonderful wife, Tammy. And so we live here in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Summer of 2015, I was diagnosed with B-cell follicular lymphoma.

It was pretty traumatic.

Whenever you hear the word cancer, it's a scary thought.

He is the light in our family.

And so losing him, oh my goodness, I can't even imagine.

Bob was referred to me from an outside facility in Winchester. And he was quite symptomatic at the time. We gave him various rounds of chemotherapy, which was available. And unfortunately, he did not respond very well to those.

And finally, we decided to try some non-chemotherapy approaches with a drug called Idelalisib.

That put me almost in remission. But then, January of last year, my legs started to swell again. And I said, well, the tumors are back.

So at that point, thank goodness.

It's a very novel therapy, where we extract T cells, genetically modify them into super soldiers, literally super soldiers that are capable of identifying these tumor cells. And when they are inserted back into the person suffering with cancer, they go directly to the tumor and destroy the tumor in many instances and produce remarkable results.

And that's what happened with Bob.

We did two weeks in the hospital in March last year and then stayed in a hotel for two weeks in the first part of April. And it was an amazing treatment.

When Dr. Indu took us in and said, let me show you the PET scan, and we both looked at each other, and I said, well, where is it, Dr. Indu She said, Tammy, it's gone. To me, that was a miracle.

There are very few institutions, 20 or less, that are high-performing, that perform more than five to six infusions a year. I consider this an honor to be able to treat patients like Bob, to be able to give such cutting-edge therapy to people, and to see it work in front of you.

I would say that the future is very bright for him.

It is a very big thing that we have a Comprehensive Cancer Center here in Virginia. When I first met Bob, he could not have traveled to a major academic center that he couldn't drive to. Some people are sick enough, where that's just not possible.

He feels great. And he's back to doing all of his activities that he did and if not better than he was doing them before.

Dr. Indu, Dr. Portell, UVA, have given me an extension on my contract with life. So it's been good. And now we're healthy and happy. We got a wonderful life back.

Tags: cancer

Reply & View Comments Search Submit

Subscribe for Updates

Get stories & health tips every week