If not donated or saved on your own, a newborn’s umbilical cord blood is disposed of after the placenta is delivered, throwing away the potential for it to cure any of the thousands of patients fighting leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood diseases.
After giving birth, the cord blood can either be donated to a cord blood bank, stored in a family cord blood bank (where it is reserved for your own family for a fee), or if you don’t choose either of those options, the umbilical cord will be discarded after birth. Donation to a public cord blood bank is free, anonymous, and safe for your baby, as the donated blood is collected from the umbilical cord and not your baby, immediately after birth.
Cord blood is plentiful in blood-forming cells (not embryonic stem cells). Once collected, it is stored and available for any patient. A transplant of these cells replaces a patient’s unhealthy blood-forming cells with your baby’s cord blood that will grow into healthy new cells.
According to the National Marrow Donor Program, currently more than 25,000 patients around the world have received cord blood transplants, but there is huge potential to spread awareness of this option. Seven out of 10 people do not have a matching donor in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find a match.
My sister-in-law, Amy Casey, is a new mom and a stem cell transplant coordinator at Cook Children’s Medical Center. After working as a hematology and oncology nurse for more than seven years, she has seen the impact that cord blood donations can have on the lives of children, teens, and young adults battling life-threatening diseases. When preparing to give birth this summer to her first baby, she said the decision to set up a donation of her baby’s cord blood was a no-brainer for her and my brother.
She said the pre-birth registration process was very easy. Be sure to tell your doctor between your 28th and 34th week of pregnancy that you’d like to donate. Because the hospital she delivered at didn’t have a cord blood donation process set up, she went to Bethematch.org and answered a few questions about her health and pregnancy. From there, a cord blood bank contacted her within 24 hours. She then filled out a formal questionnaire, and was found to meet all the criteria. She was sent a collection kit that she brought with her to the hospital when she delivered, having a point person to call or email along the way with questions.
During labor, the delivery room nursing staff and doctors read the kit’s instructions and were able to easily accommodate once Amy gave birth.
“You can always give them a friendly reminder during delivering that you are donating the cord so they don’t accidentally dispose of it out of habit,” Amy said.
We can all agree that hopefully a new habit of cord blood collection can exist.
After delivery, expect the medical staff to hand the completed kit back to you to arrange pick-up with your cord blood bank. In Amy’s case, after making a phone call, a FedEx courier came to the hospital about 24 hours after her baby’s birth for the kit. She found the pick-up procedure fairly easy as well, even with having my one-day-old nephew at the time.
“We all have the potential to save a life, starting at the very beginning of our little one’s life,” Amy said.