Last week, my family celebrated my daughter’s 15th birthday. Certainly one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was how impossible it was that I was the parent of a child that old. As I often do on milestones like birthdays, I went back in time and thought about my pregnancy with her. Everything felt so new and scary. There were so many choices we had to make, some as simple as picking a nursery pattern. But others were more involved, involving her health and well-being.
One of the conversations we had with our doctor involved cord blood banking… if you want to call it a conversation. We had seen some material about it in the waiting room at the hospital, and we brought it with us to one of our prenatal appointments. Our doctor didn’t know much about it and dismissed it out of hand as science fiction and ridiculously expensive. Like many new parents, we took her word for it and decided not to pursue it.
Seven years later when I was pregnant with my son, it was a very different conversation we had with a different ob/gyn. She was more informed than our prior doctor was, but still didn’t know much more. She didn’t discourage us from pursuing a banking opportunity, but she didn’t offer much knowledge either.
So it was fitting that 15 years after my daughter was born, I attended a session hosted by ViaCord to discuss stem cell banking. It was the kind of opportunity I wished I had as an expectant mom, to learn more about what cord blood banking is all about.
The session was hosted by Morey Kraus, Chief Scientific Officer, ViaCord and Kate Falcon Girard, RN MSW, Clinical Manager with ViaCord. They took the time to explain what cord blood is, how they collect and store it, and why it’s more important than we ever realized.
In their 101, they explained that cord blood is the blood that remains in a newborn’s umbilical cord after birth. This blood is a great source of stem cells, which are the building blocks of tissues, organs, blood, and the immune system, and have the power to heal. The potential for the cord blood extends beyond the child who the banking was done for. Certainly the baby is a perfect genetic match to his or her own stem cells. Siblings have a 75% chance of being a match for each other, and studies show that using matched cord blood from a relative will double the chance of transplant success. According to ViaCord, more than 60% of their transplants have been used for a matched sibling.
The process is quite simple. If you choose to do this, a kit is sent to the hospital. After delivery, the baby’s umbilical cord is clamped and cut. The doctor or nurse will then insert a needle into the umbilical cord to collect the remaining blood. The bag is then sealed and placed it in the ViaCord collection kit. From start to finish, the cord blood collection process takes about five minutes and neither the baby nor the mom is hurt in any way.
During the session, I was curious who in my circle of friends had done this, who had not, and what was their decision making process that led them to their choice. I went to Facebook during the session and asked who had and who had not, and why. Most of them had the same questions that I did when I was pregnant and I figured I would use the information shared in our session to address them.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions:
- “We don’t have a history of blood diseases in the family, so we didn’t pursue it.” – Cord blood stem cells are certainly vital to transplant medicine, where the infusion of stem cells goes into a patient’s bloodstream to regenerate blood, tissue, and the immune system. But there is a good deal of emerging research that’s aiming to bring about potential therapies that use cord blood stem cells to cure some serious conditions, including autism, brain injury, cerebral palsy, and Type 1 diabetes.84
- “The viable storage time is 3-5 years” – According to ViaCord, the first cord blood collations frozen nearly 25 years ago were shown to be just as healthy as cord blood that had been stored for much shorter periods. And yes, based on this answer, they did have cord blood collection technology 20 years ago, but doctors and nurses were probably not well educated about the potential benefits.
- “It’s too expensive” – 15 years ago, that’s definitely how we felt. I can’t remember how much it was exactly, but as a new parent preparing to move, buy a new house and begin furnishing a nursery: money was tight. ViaCord has made an effort to address this by lowering the upfront cost of banking by 40%. They also have a gift registry where friends can choose to support your decision to bank cord blood instead of gifting yet another receiving blanket.
- “My doctor didn’t do it for her child when she was pregnant, so I figured it wasn’t worth it for me.” – This was the big one for me. When I was pregnant 15 years ago, I had no information on cord blood banking to go on. Now that it has been used in transplants and studies are looking at more and more uses for it in treatment of nearly 80 diseases2, we know much more than we did at the beginning. As such, it’s important for parents to understand this option, what it means not just for their child but for their entire family, potentially, so they can make an informed decision.
So, knowing what I know now, would I have made a different decision 15 years ago? Hindsight is 20/20 of course, so it’s impossible to say for sure but I certainly left the session feeling a lot more informed than when I walked in. Hopefully all expectant parents will take the time to learn what cord blood banking is all about so they can make the right decisions for their family.