Winning the game of life: Veteran credits clinical trials for saving his life

Isaac completed two clinical trials in four years for multiple myeloma and says they gave him his life back.
Written by: Cary Estes
Media contact: Brianna Hoge

Stream GameballPhotography: Molly Gardner (UAB Athletics)Albert Isaac has had many reasons to give thanks ever since he collapsed in his front yard while his wife was inside preparing New Year’s dinner. Primarily, he is thankful for the results he received after going through a clinical trial.

Isaac says it seemed he was incapacitated for about 45 minutes that December afternoon in 2017. When he finally was able to stand up, go inside and tell his wife what had happened, she immediately took him to the UAB Hospital-Highlands emergency department. After undergoing tests there, Isaac was transferred by ambulance to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.

“That’s when I first realized that I must be really sick,” Isaac said. “Any time you leave one medical facility in an ambulance to go to another facility, something is very, very wrong.” 

It turned out that Isaac had multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that was causing him intense bone pain. He met with UAB Medicine hematologist Luciano Costa, M.D., a scientist in the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. Costa described the various treatment options available, including participation in a clinical trial.

“I kind of balked about it at first, but I talked it over with my wife and agreed to become part of it,” Isaac said. “The thing that amazed me was how quickly I got in. It only took a couple of days.”

Isaac went through two clinical trials. The initial treatment worked for four years; then when the myeloma began growing again, Isaac discovered he was eligible for a new trial.

“Mr. Isaac was among the first patients in the United States to receive a new type of immunotherapy as part of the initial treatment for myeloma,” Costa said. “He did very well and achieved an excellent response. When his myeloma started progressing four years later, a clinical trial was again an option. Fortunately, in the four years since his first diagnosis, the field had advanced, and we had yet another modality of immunotherapy in testing. He has done very well on it and achieved a complete remission. His treatment now consists of an injection every four weeks.”

As far as Isaac is concerned, that is an extremely small price to pay for the results he has experienced from his clinical trial participation.

“It was the best thing that could have happened,” Isaac said. “I got my life back. My wife and I can enjoy the life we had before my diagnosis. We can travel. I can work on my car and my house, all these different things. My wife is humming and singing. Life is really good.” 

“If it hadn’t been for the goodness and mercy of God, my wife, Dr. Costa and his team, I don’t think I would have survived,” Isaac added. “It was very, very positive. People don’t realize that these types of treatments are available and how good they can be. It really changed my life.”

Winning the game of life

Isaac came back to UAB to attend the UAB Blazers vs. Southern Methodist University men’s basketball game on March 10. The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UAB Blazers presented Isaac with an autographed commemorative game ball. 

Costa was present for the presentation in addition to Barry Sleckman, M.D., director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Tiffany Hill, who was one of Isaac’s clinical trial nurses.