Less than 24 hours after she was born in October 2012, Bailey Coates suffered her first seizure, and she continued having them for the next few days. Doctors diagnosed Bailey with perinatal stroke—a rare condition that occurs in only one out of every 2,700 births—and declared that 15-18 percent of her brain had already been damaged. It was devastating to the new parents who weren’t even sure if their baby girl would survive.
Thankfully, however, Rebecca and Bob Coates had made the decision to privately bank Bailey’s cord blood stem cells when she was born. Because of their foresight, Bailey could be infused with her own stem cells in a minimally invasive procedure that likely saved her life. Today, Bailey is a normally developing, healthy 14-month-old little girl.
The Coates’ story is certainly dramatic, but it’s not at all unique. In San Diego, Shelly Connelly banked her daughter Peyton’s cord blood and was able to use it treat her baby when she suffered a massive stroke following a brain tumor removal at age 1. The stroke left Peyton unable to stand or move the right side of her body, but she is now an active 5-year-old who can run, swing and ride a modified bike. And a similar situation occurred when Grace Rosewood underwent oral surgery at 9 months, only to be deprived of oxygen while under anesthesia, which left her with no muscle strength or the ability to lift her head or reach for things. Her mother Olivia was able to rely on Grace’s previously banked cord blood for treatment as well.
For moms-to-be preparing for delivery, the question of whether to bank their baby’s cord blood is usually not high on the list. But if the stories of Bailey, Peyton and Grace are any indication, perhaps more parents need to consider this potentially life-saving procedure. To that end, we’ve put together a primer covering everything you need to know about cord blood banking so you can make the best, most informed decision for your family.
The Science is Convincing
“The benefits of cord blood banking are vast, and scientists are only beginning to truly discover the depths of cord blood’s medical uses,” says Dr. Karen Taylor, a board certified OB/GYN and the Medical Director of Education and Collections for Stemcyte. “Cord blood is currently being used to treat 80 diseases including leukemia, autoimmune diseases, lupus, blood disorders and inheritable diseases such as sickle cell anemia. Research and clinical trials are actively underway worldwide that could result in cord blood being a cure for a broad range of medical matters, including spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, autism, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer. The future of cord blood science is incredibly bright!”
Costly But Worth It
Ronny Jetmore of Jetmore Insurance Group, Inc., initially spent around $1,000 to bank each of his children’s cord blood and estimates that he pays about $20 per month for storage fees. He admits that the process wasn’t cheap, but he also didn’t want “to find out an illness that was treatable cannot be treated because we did not spend a little money.”
Taylor supports Jetmore’s conviction. “Your baby’s umbilical cord blood is a rich source of special cells called stem cells,” she explains. “These cells are the body’s ‘master cells,’ building blocks for blood, organs, tissue and the immune system and are genetically unique to each baby. When you bank your baby’s cord blood and cord lining privately, you preserve a unique biological resource that is like a self-repair kit for your child and possibly other family members.
For minorities or those of mixed-race, especially, private banking may be even more critical, as finding a suitable match through public banks is often difficult should a need for a stem cell transplant ever arise.
The Public Banking Option
While the aforementioned stories are certainly convincing for cord blood banking skeptics, Dr. James Sherley, MD, PhD, Director of The Adult Stem Cell Technology Center in Boston, still notes that the average family without history of any of the diseases treatable with stem cell transplants may not have much of a use for their child’s cord blood. Even still, he encourages everyone to consider making the samples available to others through public banking.
Alex Laurelli and her husband agreed with Sherley’s position and decided to publicly bank their son’s cord blood in June 2013. They used the site BeTheMatch.org to find a program in their of hometown of Denver; they then contacted the local donation center (the University of Colorado Cord Blood Bank), who sent the Laurellis the necessary paperwork and a donation kit to take to the hospital. After their son was born, the doctor collected the sample, and Alex and her husband called a courier to pick it up. The entire process was free.
It felt great to know that, in addition to bringing a new life into the world, on that day we probably saved a life as well,” says Laurelli. “We didn’t save any for our purposes. We thought that the likelihood that it would make a difference for someone else was so significant that it overrode any interest in keeping it for ourselves. Ideally, every family who qualifies and either isn’t interested or can’t afford to bank their own should look into donation, as it can make a lifesaving difference.”
Necessary Due Diligence
With interest in cord blood banking ever-increasing, there are more and more and companies offering their services to interested families. And whether you choose to bank privately or publicly, it is still important to thoroughly research the process in advance. In addition to making sure the bank is registered with the FDA and accredited by the AABB, Sherley encourages pregnant women to ask their attending OB for banking recommendations. “Proximity and previous banking experience from their treating hospital are considerations for making sure the storage process is ideal,” he adds. “And families should ask for data on the bank’s success rate for recovering effective cord blood specimens from their freezers, as well as the back-up systems in place in case of power failures or liquid nitrogen supply problems.”
To learn more about cord blood banking, check out the following websites: