During a routine physical in 2015, non-smoker Terri Cook learned she had lung cancer. A surgeon removed her upper right lobe, and scans every six months for two years came back with all indications that Terri was cancer-free.
But in November 2017, the only time Terri went to a scan without her husband, the doctor found concerning lesions on her lower right lobe. Cook held it together in front of her physician, but her brave face didn’t hold when she told her husband.
Since Cook had a previous lobectomy, a second surgery was not an ideal situation. Her doctor offered two options: radiation or microwave ablation, the latter offered through a clinical trial to determine efficacy of a new type of lung cancer treatment.
Michael Pritchett, a pulmonary specialist at Pinehurst Medical Clinic and director of the FirstHealth's Chest Center of the Carolinas, had just returned from the United Kingdom where he assisted with a bronchoscopy with microwave ablation. That’s a procedure in which a flexible probe is inserted through the mouth, routed directly to the cancerous lesion and “zapped” with microwave energy. Dr. Pritchett had been selected as one of the few providers in the United States to offer this procedure through a clinical trial.
“When I heard ‘clinical trial,' I immediately thought ‘guinea pig,'" Terri said. “My physician and I had developed a good rapport over the years, and he said if it were his wife, he would recommend the clinical trial."
She and her husband acted on his recommendation and Dr. Pritchett performed the procedure on June 29, 2018. Terri made national history that day.
“I was the very first person in the United States to receive this procedure. Everyone was so excited and there were lots of people in the room watching.” She reported minimal discomfort after the procedure and, after an overnight stay in the hospital, recovered quickly at home.
The United States received 20 slots for the clinical trial. The second of the concerning lesions initially reported also turned out to be cancerous, and Terri was a good candidate to have it twice — so Dr. Pritchett arranged for Terri to be not only the first American to receive the procedure, but also the ninth. It was completed on March 15, 2019.
The Mayo Clinic is the only other site for this trial.
“I feel wonderful now!” said the 64-year-old grandmother of two with a third on the way. “I can breathe!”
Terri is now almost a year and half out from her initial ablation, and back to her normal routine as a substitute teacher. Recent scans have shown no evidence of cancer.
“I think it’s amazing what can be done now — and right in Pinehurst!,” says Terri. “Every time I teach in Pittsboro, my colleagues assume my medical care was in Chapel Hill. When I told them Pinehurst, they said, ‘really?’ and I replied, “Yes, really!”
Want more information about clinical trials at FirstHealth of the Carolinas? Visit https://www.firsthealth.org/reference/clinical-trials or speak with your physician.