A slew of thoughts ran through my mind when I found out I was expecting my first little bundle. Is it a boy or a girl? What color should I paint the nursery? Will he or she look like me? Act like my husband? Which stroller should I add to my registry? But as my pregnancy progressed, the trivial thoughts took a backseat to the truly important decisions that would affect the future health of my son. (It’s a boy!) When first asked how I felt about banking my little guy’s cord blood, I wasn’t even able to give an answer. I hadn’t done my research and didn’t know all the facts. Since then, I’ve learned everything I could about the process from medical professionals, cord blood banks and families who saved their children’s cord blood, so I’m able to make an informed and deliberate decision.
To be honest, initially I wasn’t quite sure what cord blood was. Sure, it sounded obvious—blood that comes from the baby’s umbilical cord—but as it turns out, there’s a little more to it. Banking facility Cord Blood Registry (CBR) clarifies the facts on its website: “Cord blood is the blood that remains in your baby’s umbilical cord after the cord has been cut. It is a rich source of unique stem cells that can be used in medical treatments.” In other words, the umbilical cord, which is responsible for carrying nutrients and oxygen to the baby while in utero, is also home to a high number of stem cells.
To delve further into my stem cell education, I turned to Cryocell, a cord blood bank that prides itself on innovative approaches and applications of newly developed stem cells. According to its site, stem cells are “special cells normally found in bone marrow. They are responsible for producing all of the mature cells in our blood and immune system.” And they don’t stop there. They also form the white cells that fight infection, the red cells that carry oxygen, and the platelets that promote clotting. Pretty impressive, huh? That’s not all for these little fellas either. Stem cells continuously make copies of themselves and are able to produce every other kind of blood cell. If you were to transplant these cells into a compatible person’s body, they would transform into whatever type of cell that body needs—they’re completely adaptable. Once researchers realized the potential benefits of the stem cells in cord blood, cord blood banks were created. These storage centers allow families to harness the power of life-saving blood and stem cells in case they need to call on it in the future.
Now that I understood the basics of cord blood, I wanted to investigate the reasons for storing it. In doing so, I came across Quentin Murray’s story. When Quentin was 4 years old, he was diagnosed with a form of lymphoblastic leukemia that left him with less than a 30 percent chance of survival. With the help of Quentin’s mother, who was pregnant with Quentin’s sister, and the guidance of his doctor, Lolie Yu, MD, MPH, a pediatric oncologist, transplant specialist and professor of pediatrics at Lousiana State University’s Health Center, the family was able to store the new baby’s placental and cord blood with LifebankUSA. The cord blood was a match for Quentin, and he was able to undergo a transplant using stem cells from both the placenta and umbilical cord. Murray’s leukemia has been in continuous and complete remission since his transplant, and he was deemed fully cured on March 28, 2010, the two-year anniversary of his transplant.
Quentin’s story isn’t unique. While talking with blood bank ViaCord, I learned the story of Andy Trevi