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For many people with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening blood diseases, a stem cell transplant is a critical, life-saving treatment option. However, finding a match isn’t always easy or quick.
An umbilical cord blood transplant is often the answer for these patients. Cord blood is an important source of the type of stem cells needed for transplantation, and cord donations are relatively easy to collect.
BWH’s Cord Blood Donation Program, celebrating its third anniversary this month, provides women delivering at BWH with the opportunity to donate their baby’s umbilical cord blood. Through the program, which is jointly operated by BWH and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, cord blood is donated to a public bank. From there, it may be found to match any of the patients around the world who search the National Donor Program Registry for an available match.
About 30 percent of patients in need of a transplant find a donor match within their families, but the other 70 percent need to search a worldwide database of unrelated donors, looking for their “miracle match.”
That was the case for 6-year-old Katelyn Bailey, who developed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) as a side effect of the treatment she received for a brain tumor she had as an infant. Because of the extensive chemotherapy she had already undergone for her previous cancer, doctors told her family that a stem cell transplant was the best treatment option for her AML. Her parents, Lawrence and Michelle Bailey, had banked the cord blood following the birth of her younger sister. It wasn’t a match for Katelyn, nor were any of her other family members a match for a bone marrow transplant.
“It was important for Katelyn to get the transplant as quickly as possible. Time was crucial,” said Michelle. “With the cord blood transplant, once we found a match, it was readily available from the bank, so it all happened very quickly.”
As of May, 14 of the 350 cords collected at BWH have been used in a transplant. That’s 4 percent of the total collected, placing BWH above the national utilization rate of 2.5 to 3 percent for transplant, according to Deb Liney, director of BWH’s Cord Blood Program.
“We have such an ethnically diverse group of moms who deliver at BWH, and that’s very important in terms of making transplant accessible to everyone,” Liney said. “The more diverse the population is, the more we need diverse cord blood donations to create a match. BWH has a great wealth of diversity to contribute to the national program, with 40 percent of the program’s collections coming from minority patients.”
The cord blood and placenta are collected immediately following the birth, but the decision to donate is made prior to delivery.
“We’re grateful to the families who make the decision to donate cord blood,” said Chief of Obstetrics David Acker, MD. “Their choice may help save someone’s life.”
Nearly a year after transplant, Katelyn is an active 6-year-old who loves playing with her little sister, Meghan, and going to the beach. She dreams of going to Disneyland someday, and, thanks to the cord blood transplant that saved her life, that dream will likely become a reality.
“By choosing to donate, you can change the outcome for children like Katelyn,” said Michelle. “Words can’t express how grateful we are to all the moms out there who choose to donate. Cord blood saved my daughter’s life.”