CAR-T Cell Therapy Helps Man Continue Community Advocacy

Sylvester Pinckney
Sylvester Pinckney

Sylvester Pinckney is someone who knows a lot about teamwork. He was a star football player in high school and college; he and his wife, Sabrina, have raised a family together; and for more than 20 years, he has worked to promote the well-being of children throughout his community.

When Sylvester was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma in 2016, he knew he would have a team supporting him.

“When you have the opportunity to continue to live and fight for your family and your children, you have got to do it,” Sylvester says.

He went to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, just a few miles from his home. Sylvester’s care team treated the lymphoma with an autologous stem cell transplant, and his cancer went into remission for nearly seven years.

But in 2023, he began to feel fatigued and pain, which prompted him to visit his community physician. Tests determined that his lymphoma had recurred.

“When Mr. Pinckney was evaluated, we worked very closely with his community oncologist in Jacksonville,” Dr. Mohamed Kharfan-Dabaja says. “He was found to be a good candidate for chimeric antigen receptor-T cell therapy (CAR-T cell therapy), and we all agreed that this was the best course of action.”

CAR-T cell therapy collects a patient’s T cells, which normally help fight off infections, and genetically engineers them to identify and target cancer cells. Those cells are then infused back into the body.

“Cancer is a huge word,” Sabrina says. “Thirty or 40 years ago, that was a death sentence word. But look where we’ve come from just (seven) years ago. CAR-T cell therapy was in its prototype stages, but who knew we’d walk this walk again and the prototype would address the very cancer that my husband has? That’s a blessing within itself.”

As he prepared for his infusion, Sylvester was comforted knowing his experience could help others understand and have confidence in the treatment.

Sylvester Pinckney prepares for an imaging test.

“You’re the person going through it, but you have others who can benefit from it,” Sylvester says. “Through your journey, be able to have a voice and tell them it will be fine; trust the process and the science. And when you’re a patient going through something like that, it is very important to have that family environment and family feel.”

In the days, weeks and months after CAR-T cell therapy, Sylvester was monitored closely. He began to feel his strength and energy return. At 100 days posttreatment, his care team delivered the news: his cancer was in remission.

“I believe in the bells that ring here every day,” Sabrina says. “I believe in the doctors just walking the halls every day. The nurses down to the beautification staff, everyone I’ve ever come in contact with here, it is more than a job — it’s a passion.”

Sylvester shares that sentiment. His passion to positively affect the community and ensure the well-being of young people continues. Sylvester adds that the collaboration among healthcare professionals at Mayo Clinic and the Jacksonville community gives him hope for the future and gratitude for the present.

“Having a treatment that can change lives in your hometown is powerful,” Sylvester says. “For me to be able to go home and come back is a blessing. I thank God that CAR-T was an option for me. I’m very grateful, and we have a family that has been blessed.”

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