Umbilical cord blood, or simply cord blood, is the blood that remains in the placenta after childbirth. It's composed of all the elements that make up whole blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and a rich number of hematopoietic stem cells. Many families have stored cord blood as these stem cells can potentially treat genetic and blood disorders.
The first successful cord blood transplant was performed in 1988 on a child suffering from Fanconi anemia. Cord blood is usually used for blood and immunological disorders, but some research is being done in other areas of medicine as well. For example, cord blood has also been studied as a treatment for diabetes. Any potential use for cord blood cells is limited due to them being hematopoietic type of stem cells, which means they can differentiate only into blood cells, and not just any type of tissue.
Cord blood banking has become increasingly popular, and now, both private and public banks are available. Private storage, however, is illegal in some countries like Italy and France, and private banking has been controversial both in the medical and parenting community, since the chances that the baby may use the cord blood is very little, i.e, 1 in 200,000.
New York Blood Center’s National Cord Blood Program (NCBP) is the world's first and largest single public cord blood bank. They collect, process, test and store cord blood that mothers donate, for patients in need of a hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
Here are 15 stories shared by families for whom cord blood saved the life of a dear one.
15 Cord Banking Helped Her Child With Cerebral Palsy
Ali and Tyler Krebs have a family of five among which is a 10-year old daughter, Ava, a 7-year old son, Casey, and a 4-year old son, Brady.
The first time she was pregnant, Ali was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. Due to the increased risks that a diabetic mother poses to her infant, there were concerns of complications during her pregnancies. But the first two pregnancies turned out to be normal. When Ali became pregnant again, her diabetes had gotten worse and the pregnancy was difficult. Due to the complications with Brady, the doctors and the Krebs agreed he would be the last child. Sometime earlier, they had learned about cord blood and its uses and thought it would be useful to bank it in hopes it could help Ali in diabetes research.
When Brady was born he was silent and a “code blue” was called. An oxygen mask was placed on the baby and they started doing chest compressions. Baby Brady was put in the NICU, suffering from organ failure and loss of oxygen to the brain. Brady was eventually diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and they were told that it was uncertain whether he would ever walk.
Six months after his birth, they got a letter from a blood cord company mentioning that a study was going to take place at Duke University to see if a patient’s stem cells would help treat Cerebral Palsy. They immediately joined the study. Brady was infused 4 times: at 12, 18, 24 and 30 months. He showed marked improvement after each treatment and at 18 months started walking on his own. Ali says that if a stranger met Brady today, they would think him to be completely normal; he is extremely active, and no less than any normal kid.
14 His Brother’s Cord Blood Saved Him
It was only 2 1/2 years since his birth that Nicholas was diagnosed with Leukemia. Doctors informed Traci and Kevin Mercier that he needed a 2 1/2 year course of intensive chemotherapy; stem cell transplant was reserved as an option if he relapsed. When Nicholas’ oncologist learned about Traci’s pregnancy, he advised her to bank the cord blood in case Nick ever needed a transplant. When Brayden was born, his cord blood was sent off to a cord blood bank.
Nick’s Leukemia unfortunately relapsed at the young age of 5. It was either 18 more months of chemotherapy or test Brayden’s cord blood for a match. The Mercier family chose the latter. They waited as Nick’s health worsened. His appendix burst and Nick was back to chemotherapy and, because of his suppressed immunity, the infection spread throughout his body perforating some internal organs. Days later, Nick was still under intensive care, his oncologist walked in and shared the good news: the cord blood was a perfect match! He immediately received a cord blood stem cell transplant. A year later, he is ready to start school. Although it is too early to say if he will stay in remission, his recovery is promising, all thanks to Brayden and the cord blood.
13 It Was Indeed A Miracle
Tami, a mother of four, was pregnant with her son Blase when she first decided to talk about cord blood banking to her doctor in 2002. Her physician advised her against it, as it was an expensive procedure and there was not any need for it. However, when she was five months pregnant with her third son, Bryce, Blase was diagnosed with a type of Leukemic cancer (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). She started speaking to a blood bank company and doctors told her that they could treat Blase’s cancer if the baby's cord blood stem cells were a match. Tami says that what followed next was a miracle.
This particular cord blood company agrees to store and collect cord blood from siblings for free for five years if a sibling has a disease diagnosis that the sibling's cord blood can treat. When Bryce was born, Tami used the company’s Sibling Cord Blood Connection to store his stem cells for free. After receiving the cord blood, Blase has been cancer-free for four years thanks to being treated with his brother’s cord blood. Tami asserts that cord blood banking is not an option, it is a necessity.
12 He Wants To Hug The Man Who Thought Of This
Keone Penn was born with severe sickle cell anemia. He had a stroke when he was 5-years old and had to endure frequent episodes of pain throughout his childhood. Even after receiving regular blood transfusions to reduce the sickling, Keone continued to have pain, bone and joint problems, and even developed kidney complications. As his situation worsened, Keone’s doctors began contemplating stem cell transplant as a last resort. Keone’s sister was tested as a possible bone marrow donor, but it was not a match. This was when Andrew Yaegar, his doctor, suggested stem cell transplantation from the cord blood of an unrelated donor; it would be the first time this was tried for sickle cell anemia.
After undergoing 9 days of chemo to destroy his own defective marrow cells, Keone was transplanted with a matching cord blood unit that had been donated earlier to the New York Blood Center's National Cord Blood Program. He was admitted to the hospital several times after that. He developed graft vs host disease, and was ailing for a long time. Eventually, these complications subsided and a year later, he was cured. He is now leading a normal life and aspires to become a chef. He states that he wishes he could hug the people who came up with the idea of using cord blood to cure diseases.
11 Mom’s Foresight Helped Give Her Daughter A Normal Life
Sparrow Morris was born into a family of six; she was her parents’ fifth child. Her mom, Tonya Morris, says that when she was pregnant with Sparrow, she had a book on pregnancy that she used to read, and it happened to have an article on cord blood and its many benefits. She made a decision to bank Sparrow’s cord blood then.
The family had put up a swimming pool in the back garden for the children to play. One day, she heard her sons screaming, and when she rushed to them, she found Sparrow pulled out of the swimming pool. Tonya remembers how blue and pulseless she was. She was rushed to a hospital; CPR was performed on her for the first 47 minutes, but there was no heartbeat. She was placed in intensive care. The doctors in the PICU in the next couple of days, were preparing the parents, saying she would not be able to make it because of extensive brain damage due to lack of oxygen to the brain. They came home on July 8, and Sparrow started receiving several therapies to help her development; she was progressing in a slow pace.
Fifteen months later, she was accepted into Duke University for re-infusion of her cord blood, and results were immediate. Because of her mom’s foresight in banking cord blood, Sparrow started smiling and conversing, her walking improved and she no longer needed therapy.
10 Cord Blood Treated His Diabetes
When Barrett Ross was born, his family ignored the advice of their genetic counselor and decided to bank the blood from his umbilical cord. There was nothing in their family history to indicate any kind of potential disease, the counselor had told them. But Christine Ross, his mother, thought it would help him in the future if he ever developed diseases like cancer. Little did she know he would need it as child; Barrett was born with type-1 diabetes.
He was enlisted in a pilot study along with 11 other diabetic children at the University of Florida to see if cord blood could help treat diabetes. Dr. Michael Haller says that the researchers hoped that the cells from the patient’s own cord blood would either lessen the immune system’s attack on the pancreas or possibly introduce stem cells that can differentiate into insulin-producing cells.
Preliminary results have shown the young patients to have required significantly less insulin and maintained better control of blood sugar levels than children of a comparable age with type-1 diabetes. Haller stressed that the study is in its preliminary phase and could show that the cells support healing rather than actually repairing damaged areas. Christine says that it was destiny to be part of the study and asserts that if it is possible to lessen the severity of Barrett’s diabetes or extend the time that he’s doing well, it must be done.
9 A Gift From God
In May 2001, Julie and Jonathan Henderson had just found out that Julie was pregnant when they noticed their 2-year old son, Nicholas, had a swollen lymph node. A few weeks later, the doctor performed a biopsy, and they were assured that it was not likely to be cancer since he did not manifest any of the symptoms, and his blood tests were good. When the test results came in, the doctor, with a sad look on his face told them, “It’s not good.” He explained that Nicholas had T-cell lymphoma.
The next day, their oncologist asked them to immediately start chemo and also save cord blood from the new baby, informing them that a stem cell transplant has a higher success rate than bone marrow transplants. Medical reports looked optimistic, the Hendersons said. Nicholas underwent the induction-phase of chemo for 6 months and was in remission. He was healthy and normal, albeit some hair and weight loss.
On December the same year, the doctor found cancer cells in Nicholas’ spinal fluid, and a stem cell transplant seemed like their best bet. In February, his baby brother was born, who was named Nathaniel, ‘given by God,’ in expectation of what joy he would bring about for the family. Nathaniel’s cord blood was collected and stem cells transplanted to Nicholas. At first, he fell very sick, but on May 13, 2002, his condition improved: the graft was accepted by his body. Julie says that since the time of the transplant, he has remained cancer free.
8 His Sister Saved Him From A Life-Threatening Disease
When Andres and Paulina Trevino banked their daughter, Sofia’s, cord blood, they already knew they were going to use it to treat her brother Andy’s condition.
Five years before, when Andy was born in Mexico City, various infections kept him hospitalized for almost a year and a half. Andy’s doctors could not understand why, and suggested they find specialized care.
Andres and Paulina decided to take him to the Children’s Hospital in Boston. The doctors there found out that Andy had a mutation in a gene called NEMO, which prevented his body from activating genes that play a critical role in immune response and can ultimately suppress the immune system. This mutation was a rare condition as there were only 15 cases reported worldwide. His parents recall that Andy’s prognosis was poor; his only hope was a stem cell transplant to help his body build a healthy immune system.
Sofia was born in late winter of 2004, and the day is forever remembered as the best day of their lives. Her cord blood was a match for Andy, and 6 months later the transplant was done. Andy is now leading a healthy and normal life, thanks to his sister’s cord blood. Andres says that he thinks about that day every day and believes the power of stem cells to have cured his son.
7 This Mom Is Grateful For The Option
Maddilyn was just 6 months old when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Tasha Jock, her young mother, immediately began Maddie’s chemotherapy at the Monroe Carell Jr. Hospital in Vanderbilt. One month later, Tasha learned that she was pregnant with her second child and made the decision to save the cord blood in case Maddie’s chemo failed.
Tasha knew about cord blood banking at the time Maddie was born, but did not pursue it since she thought the cost was too high for such an optional service. But this time, she got Maddie enrolled in the blood cord service called Sibling Connection Program at the recommendation of her OB/GYN, who learned about Maddie’s condition during one of her pregnancy appointments. Tasha was grateful to have a potential resource that could cure Maddie if need be.
Fortunately, Maddie responded well to the chemo and the oncologists do not think she will need a transplant in the immediate future.
6 This Mom’s Family History Was A Hint To Bank Cord Blood
Paul and Amy Murphy decided to privately bank their baby’s cord blood when they found out that Amy was pregnant. Leukemia ran in Amy’s family and stem cells from cord blood had proven effective against blood cancers.
Around the age of nine months they realized their daughter, Katie, wasn't moving around or sitting up as much as other kids her age. By the time Katie turned one, her parents learned that Katie had hypotonia. The disease affects muscle tone and adversely affects gross and fine motor skills. They discovered a study taking place at Duke University where they were using umbilical cord blood stem cells to treat cerebral palsy in children. Since they had banked Katie’s cord blood, they were allowed to participate in the study. Soon after, Katie received a cord blood transfusion in January 2010.
Despite real evidence, Amy is convinced that the transfusion made a difference in Katie’s development, as within weeks she was seeing small improvements in Katie’s health. Amy says that she was advised not to expect improvement right away, but she says that being with her daughter all the time, she has noticed a lot of improvement.
5 An Unrelated Cord Blood Came Back As A Match
Anthony’s mother says that Anthony Dones underwent a transplant when he was just 5-months old.
When he was born, Anthony’s umbilical cord blood was disposed of. Four months later, Anthony was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Osteoporosis, the only cure being a transplant. Since he immediately needed it, search began by the doctors for a cord blood match. Anthony’s mother says that she could not even begin to tell what it felt like not knowing if her baby was going to survive - to have this little tiny being that she helped create and grow inside her be taken away from her within the first few months of his life.
Fortunately, within a few days, a match was found. He was admitted on December 3, 2002, and underwent chemo for 8 days. He then received his transplant on December 12, 2002, one month after his diagnosis. His mother remembers it to be one of the greatest days of their lives; their son was getting a second chance at life. On January 31st, his blood counts were at a safe level for him to go home. Anthony is now 4-years old and continues to do very well. He is learning to play the piano and is taking horseback riding lessons.
4 A Routine Test Lead To His Diagnosis
After their youngest son, Adam was diagnosed with Krabbe’s disease or Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy, an inherited, rare metabolic disease, the Haines’ had their older son, Erik tested “just in case,” although he was not showing any symptoms. Erik was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 2 in 1994. This disease ruins the coating on nerve cells in the nervous system and brain. Adam was already too ill to receive a transplant of bone marrow and he passed away shortly after his second birthday.
Although Erik had not shown any symptoms of the disease when he was diagnosed, because the disease can move so quickly, doctors advised the Haines’ to go for an immediate stem cell transplant in hopes of keeping the disease from taking hold.
Although no match was found amongst bone marrow donors, a partial match was found in a blood bank registry. Up to that point there were very few people who had received cord blood transplants, and while it was not a precise match, doctors felt it could still work because there are fewer cord blood complications than with bone marrow. His parents say that Erik was the 6th person to receive a transplant from an unrelated donor. Erik’s transplant was successful and he was able to leave the hospital a record (at the time) 26 days later. Erik it now a teenager and leads a normal life. Since his transplant was such a success, children with inherited metabolic diseases can now receive cord blood transplants as an accepted treatment.
3 His Cancer Came Back
Dr. Kristin Lengowski, a mother of 4, says that the family was vacationing in Montana when her firstborn son, Robert, told them that his jaw hurt. Lengowski and her husband Marcel Lopez-Carlos, immediately suspected that his Leukemia had relapsed. He was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) only a year before, and received extensive chemo and a bone marrow transplant, but it seemed to have returned.
After consulting with Dr. London, his pediatrician, Lengowski and Carlos checked their son into Duke University Medical Center. Robert's oncologist told the family that they could wait for a marrow transplant from the National Marrow Donor Program, but then he informed them of a new procedure that was gaining momentum - a transplant of cord blood from an unrelated donor.
The decision took them all of 3 short minutes. Seeing that the cord blood units were easily available, it was the best option, given that he'd already had one marrow transplant and his chances for survival were slim. He got the transplant done. The research saved her son’s life, Dr. Kristin recounts.
2 Cord Blood Cured His ALD
As with Erik Haines and his family, the Barsh’s had their son, Spencer, tested for an inheritable disease that ran in the family after a cousin was diagnosed with ALD, or Adrenoleukodystrophy. ALD is a destructive neurodegenerative disease caused by a defective gene that results in the lack of a protein in the body that helps break down fatty acids. Lack of this protein causes damage to the adrenal glands and brain, ultimately resulting in death. The disease was featured in the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil.”
When Spencer Barsh was tested at the age of one-year old, he didn’t have any symptoms. However, soon after his second birthday, an MRI showed changes were starting to take place in his brain that were an indication that the disease was on the move. Without any matching bone marrow donors they started looking for a cord blood match. In April 2002, after going through chemotherapy to destroy his own blood marrow, Spencer received a cord blood transplant and is now a teenager doing very well. His parents state that to see him, one would never know what he has been through.
1 Celebrating Two Birthdays Now
When Mitch Santana was only 9 ½ months old he was diagnosed with ALL, or lymphocytic leukemia, and had no family members with matching bone marrow. So it was constant waiting and hoping that a match would come along. Baby Mitch was treated with chemotherapy and he went into remission for a time, but the cancer came back. Putting the baby through more intensive chemotherapy was all the doctors could offer, but said that the cancer would likely relapse again.
It was decided to opt for an unrelated cord blood match and, fortunately, they found one. When Mitch was three years old in 1993, he was only the second person in history to receive a cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor. Mitch’s mom, Minnie states that on the day before Mitch’s transplant, his older brother celebrated a birthday and so now the two brothers celebrate a birthday together; Mitch’s second chance at life and the day his brother was born. All these years later, Mitch is doing great thanks to the generosity of someone who banked their baby’s cord blood and saved his life.