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Donating Cord Blood at BC Women’s

As a mom who gave birth just over three short years ago, I wondered what would happen to my baby’s precious cord blood. I knew that the stem cells it contains can save lives and was keen to find a way to donate it. I talked to hospital staff, looked at the brochures and then promptly forgot about it.

Giving Birth is Stressful Enough

If you had complications in your pregnancy and maybe even a subsequent unplanned c-section, including an exasperated anesthesiologist saying, “We’ll try a third time to insert the spinal or we’re going to have to do something differently,” you’d understand how stressful and crazy this time in your life is. And of course if you are going to donate cord blood time is precious. As soon as your baby is born it is collected on the spot. But when your baby is born and your body’s been cut wide open, donating cord blood is the last thing on your mind. It was about two days after the deed was done that I remembered that not only did we not follow up, no one on the medical team asked us about it.

Our baby’s cord blood was discarded. To say it was a missed opportunity is an understatement. It could have saved someone’s life. On the other hand if we had followed up, we would have learned that for most people it is prohibitively expensive.

cord Blood collection
Courtesy of Flickr: Banc de Sang, Teixits

Collecting Cord Blood Privately

At the time, we didn’t know that the only available service in BC was private. And of course the brochures we read didn’t mention that there were two public facilities in Canada available, one in Edmonton and the other in Quebec. It wouldn’t be in their best interests to tell us, and frankly, it doesn’t sound convenient or easy to access.

If you choose to collect your baby’s cord blood through a private facility the stem cells are stored for the long term, up to eighteen years, which can cost thousands of dollars. If you never have to use it, it cannot be used by anyone else. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you know there is a good chance you might need it or you plan on having more children. But it might just sit there, unused.

Canadian Blood Services Partners with BC Women’s Health Centre

On January 9, 2013, Canadian Blood Services and BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre held a press conference to announce their highly anticipated partnership to set up a collection site for public cord blood donations. It is the only one of its kind in BC with a similar collection site in Ottawa.

We heard from a panel of speakers including a 15-year-old girl who received stem cell treatment for leukemia at age nine. Her treatment was only possible through the collection of stem cells from international sources. Being half Caucasian and half Filipino made finding a suitable match for her extremely difficult.

The Demand for Cord Blood Donations is Rising

The demand for cord blood donations is on the rise as physicians are discovering its importance in treating diseases other than leukemia and other cancers. With over 1000 patients on the wait list the need is urgent.

Canadian Blood Services National Public Cord Blood Bank will be focusing on ethnically diverse and mixed race mothers, as these groups are the most difficult to match. BC Womens’s Hospital & Health Centre will begin assisting Canadian Blood Services with the recruitment of potential mothers from the area, and the collection of their baby’s donated umbilical cord blood for stem cell treatments.

Done Having Babies? You Can Still Help

Even if you’re not planning on having more children, there are ways that you and your family and friends can help. Here are a few options:

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  1. Join the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. Right now there is a need for healthy, ethnically diverse males between the ages of 17-35 to join. Find out more at OneMatch.ca.
  2. Make a blood donation. You can donate whole blood, platelets or plasma. Find out more at www.blood.ca.
  3. Provide a financial gift to the Campaign ‘For All Canadians’. Your gift will contribute to Canada’s commitment to providing unrelated cord blood donations to patients in need. Find out more at www.blood.ca/fundraising

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For more information on the Nations Public Cord Blood Bank, please visit their website.

Now that this service is in place donations are needed. Ask your physician how you as an expectant mom can donate your newborn’s cord blood to save a life. It’s easy, painless and critical for those in desperate need.

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