Donate Cord Blood

by Jamie Littlefield and Deborah Mitchell
The Challenge

Umbilical cord blood donation can save critically-ill patients suffering from leukemia, lymphoma, and more than 70 other diseases.

But keep in mind: cord blood donation requires simple, advanced preparation, and the obstetrician must act immediately after the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. Fortunately, the donated blood is withdrawn from the umbilical cord after it is detached, so there is no discomfort for the mother or baby.

Yet, most delivery room doctors discard life-saving cord blood as medical waste, even though cord blood donation is desperately needed by tens of thousands of people who have life-threatening illnesses.

Here's the point: the blood in an umbilical cord consists of stem cells that can "transform" into various types of healthy cell tissue. That tissue may be a treatment for many serious illnesses, including leukemia and other cancers, sickle cell disease, brain tumors, and osteoporosis. In the future, stem cells from donated cord blood may also be used to treat heart disease, vision loss (due to loss of corneal epithelial cells), Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and diabetes.

Although some ill patients "match" with a family member who can donate stem cells that are suitable for their treatment, nearly 75 percent of patients are not so fortunate. Cord blood donations can give these critically-ill patients a much better chance of finding stem cells that match their tissue type.

Unlike the ethical issues that surround embryonic stem cell research, stem cells from live-birth cord blood are collected from an umbilical cord that would otherwise be thrown away, so there are no moral barriers.

Your cord blood donation will be screened for diseases and genetic issues. If the blood does not meet eligibility criteria, it may be used for research (if you gave consent for that use). If the cord blood does meet requirements, it will be stored at a public cord blood bank and entered on a registry which doctors can search to find matches.

The need for cord blood donations from ethnic minorities (African-American, Asians, Hawaiians, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, and mixed races) is especially critical, because there are not enough suitable donations from these populations, and there is greater variation among tissue types in many minorities, which makes it more difficult to find a suitable match.

Stem cell research has given "the miracle of birth" a whole new meaning: A newly delivered infant has the potential to save the life of another human being, just by donating umbilical cord blood that would otherwise be thrown away. Can you help?

How to Make a Difference I Did This!
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If you are an expectant parent, please see: Donate Your Umbilical Cord Blood.  If you know an expectant mother, please skip to: Encourage Friends to Store or Donate Cord Blood.

  • First, decide whether or not you would like to store the cord blood for your own family. If so, private cord blood banking costs approximately $1,400 and higher to start and then $115 or more per year for storage.  Otherwise, read on; donating cord blood is usually free.
  • Check if your delivery is scheduled at a Cord Blood Donation participating hospital. If so, talk with your obstetrician about arranging for your donation. Arrangements between the hospital and a cord blood bank should generally be completed by the 34th week of pregnancy. The cord blood bank may send you a collection kit, which you should then give to your doctor; or the cord blood bank may work directly with your doctor or hospital for the collection.
  • If your hospital does not yet participate in a cord blood donation program, contact Lifeforce Cryobanks at 800-869-8608 or enroll online. Lifeforce Cryobanks sends medical couriers that will pick-up cord blood donations from almost anywhere in the continental United States. Donors must meet eligibility requirements and register before the 35th week of pregnancy. Alternatively, check this directory to see if a public cord blood bank would make arrangements for your cord blood donation.
  • Follow the cord blood bank' preparation procedures, which are likely to include providing a medical history and blood sample, and signing a consent form. Read the consent form carefully before you sign it. Some cord blood banks may use donated blood for research instead of transplants that directly help sick patients. If this is not your wish, you must let the blood bank know.
  • If you are responsible for bringing the cord blood collection kit to the hospital, be sure to place the kit in the pre-packed luggage or bag that you plan to take to the delivery room. If a friend or family member will accompany you to the hospital, ask them to remind the delivery-room doctor to use the cord blood collection kit. Cord blood collection must occur within 10-15 minutes after birth to ensure the viability of the donation.
  • Although the public cord blood bank will accept and process your donation for free, talk to your doctor in advance about fees, if any, for extracting the cord blood. Many doctors and hospitals will donate the few minutes it takes to collect the cord blood.

Do you want to help even more?  As an expectant parent, you probably know several other expectant parents.

Many expectant parents are not aware of how cord blood donations work, who they benefit, and how easy they are. You can help save lives if you encourage expectant parents to store their baby's cord blood for their own family or to donate the cord blood to a public cord-blood bank. To get started:

  • Share this article with interested friends, family, and neighbors, as well as with your doctor, family planning clinic, family resource center, community parenting classes, and other related venues.
  • Help friends understand cord blood donation eligibility requirements so they avoid activities or know about health conditions (e.g., cancer) that could prevent the cord blood from being accepted. For instance, no recent tattoos or body piercings!
  • Make it easy for expectant parents to donate their cord blood by providing them with contact information for the public cord blood banks that will gratefully accept their donation. Follow-up to ensure that enrollment occurs before the 34th week of pregnancy.

Newborns can make a life-altering difference in the world even before they leave the hospital. A cord blood donation is all it takes.

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