A life-saving gift from moms: babies' cord blood

Cord blood helps people with blood diseases such as leukemia


Tiffany Scott donated her baby Braelyn Scott's cord blood, which is rich in stem cells and can be used in transplant patients with a variety of conditions, shown at home in Newberry, Fla., Friday, May 10, 2013.

Erica Brough/Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 6:08 p.m.

As Tiffany Scott cradled her 3-month-old daughter Braelyn on Friday afternoon at their sunny Newberry home, tucked away in a field of flowers, Scott was careful to take the spotlight away from herself and her daughter for their donation of Braelyn's cord blood when she was born.

"It's not about me or her," Scott said. "It's about who can benefit from this."

Mother's Day is normally a day when kids recognize their mothers, often with gifts, but cord blood is an invaluable gift that some mothers give other mothers — anonymously, at any time of year.

Cord blood, contained in the umbilical cord, is rich in stem cells that can be used in transplants in people with blood diseases such as leukemia. If not donated, it is simply discarded.

Scott had seen a pamphlet on cord blood donation at her OB-GYN's office, and her husband, Dustin, is the district quality assurance manager for LifeSouth Community Blood Centers in Gainesville, which stores cord blood. So unlike many pregnant women, Scott knew about the potential value of a cord blood donation.

Once Scott got to North Florida Regional Medical Center to have Braelyn, whether or not she wanted to donate cord blood was just one of the many questions that she had to answer.

"I think it's great," she said of donating. She added that there are no extra needles or processes involved.

"You're so wrapped up in everything with the baby that you don't even realize they're doing it," Scott said.

Dustin watched everything, though. Right after he cut Braelyn's umbilical cord, the doctor drew the blood, placed it in six tubes, and sometime within the next 48 hours, Braelyn's cord blood was transported to LifeSouth's LifeCord blood bank in Gainesville and frozen indefinitely — until someone whose blood type matches Braelyn's needs it.

According to Dr. Juan Merayo-Rodriguez, medical director of the LifeCord blood bank at LifeSouth, the bank has about 5,000 units of frozen cord blood, and they have sent out 109 units for transplantation since the service started in 1998. "That number is increasing every year," Merayo-Rodriguez said, adding that they are also trying to collect as much blood as possible from people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Most of the donations come from Caucasians, which are usually not compatible with people of other races, he added.

Devon Vickers, a 23-year-old African-American woman, received a cord blood donation to cure her of chronic myeloid leukemia that she had suffered from since she was 11 years old. Although initially medications kept her cancer at bay, within five years of diagnosis, Vickers needed a transplant.

"None of my family members were matches," she said, adding that the donation came from "a random mother I probably will never get the chance to meet."

The donation process is kept anonymous since technically the donation comes from the baby, who is unable to give consent, according to a spokeswoman from Be the Match, a national marrow donor program that contacts places like LifeSouth when a blood unit there is a match for a person on its waiting list.

The donation that Vickers received had actually been found soon after her diagnosis — and was waiting for her when she needed it, she explained. Vickers recalled, at 16, spending more than half of the school year in the hospital, during and after the transplant. "Instead of worrying about what I was going to wear the next day like most 16-year-olds, I was in the hospital battling side effects," she said.

"It was definitely an experience that I will never forget," she continued, adding that without the cord blood donation, "I wouldn't be here today. I would not be able to say I had graduated from UF, and that I am going to law school in the fall.

"Knowing this woman did this out of the kindness of her heart," Vickers said, "it's hard to wrap your mind around."

Vickers now volunteers with LifeSouth, which is trying to educate more physicians about the need for cord blood donations.

Shands at the University of Florida and North Florida Regional Medical Center both offer women the option of donating their cord blood.

Dr. Anthony Agrios, the founder and senior provider of obstetrics and gynecology at the All About Women clinic at North Florida Regional, said he estimates that about 80 percent of his patients elect to donate their babies' cord blood, and 50 percent actually do it.

"Umbilical cord blood is extremely safe," Agrios said. "Newborns haven't been exposed to anything yet."

If you are interested in donating cord blood and are giving birth at a hospital that does not donate, find out more information at the Be the Match website: http://marrow.org/Get_Involved/Donate_Cord_Blood/How_to_Donate/How_to_Donate.aspx

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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