At 33, Brad Silver, a swimming and water polo coach, suffered from blinding headaches that he tried to ignore. It was meant to be a happy time. His wife was seven months pregnant and he couldn’t wait to meet his son. As an all-American athlete, growing up surfing and lifeguarding in Huntington Beach, he knew that something was awry with his body. A visit to the hospital turned into a battery of tests that ended in devastating news. “You have two months to live,” Brad recalled the doctor’s prognosis.
He was diagnosed with late stage brain cancer, a glioblastoma. Surgery was not an option. “I needed to find something, or someone, to at the minimum keep me alive so I could be there for the birth of my son,” he said. Brad went for a second and third opinion. Then he found Dr. Liau at UCLA.
“I chose Dr. Linda M. Liau and Dr. Tim Cloughesy because they got to know me as a father and an athlete,” he said. “At other hospitals the doctors were divided. At UCLA, they were not just a surgeon and oncologist, they worked together as my team and I trusted them to do everything they could to keep me alive.”
Dr. Liau performed his surgery on April 10, 2003. She removed a golf ball-sized tumor from his left lateral lobe. Nine days later, he witnessed the miracle of his son’s birth. He called him Brad Silver Jr. in memory of himself. Not knowing how many days, weeks or months he would have left with his family, he entered a phase I clinical trial.
Dr. Liau used a section of his tumor to create a personalized vaccine. From his drawn blood, she extracted his immune cells and trained them to recognize his brain tumor cells as an invader. These immune cells, called dendritic cells, would train killer T-cells to hunt down, attack and eliminate the brain cancer cells. She then injected this host of dendritic cells back into his body as a vaccine. With the help of Dr. Liau, Brad experienced his son’s first breath of life, his first smile, his first laugh, his first words and his first steps.
Year after year, on April 10th, Brad sent flowers to Dr. Liau on his anniversary of life after brain cancer. Simultaneously, he celebrated the birthday of his son, Brad Silver Jr. “Initially, I thought I would only see his birth, then I no longer had to change his diapers. He was wearing undies,” Brad said with a chuckle. “He starts to walk and run, now he swims, he plays tennis, he surfs and stand-up paddles with me.”
Today, Brad and his family celebrate 10- years cancer-free and Brad Silver Jr.’s 10th birthday in Abu Dhabi, where he now lives with his family. He no longer needs to be close to UCLA. He simply sends his MRI scans into Dr. Liau via email.