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Deborah Yolin Raley, with husband Howard and new son, Gabriel, was among the first patients to donate her baby’s umbilical cord to a public bank for patients in need of life-saving stem cell transplants.
For five years, Deborah Yolin Raley, PA-C, has been caring for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening blood diseases in need of stem cell transplants at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
This month, the physician assistant was among the first women to donate umbilical cord blood—an important source of the type of stem cells needed for transplantation—to those in need of a donor match when she delivered her second child at BWH.
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“I’ve come full circle by being able to put my own baby’s cord into the registry and give someone else a chance for a potentially life-saving transplant,” said Yolin Raley, who gave birth to a son, Gabriel, on June 5. “For me to be able to give more to potential transplant recipients in this way is extremely gratifying.”
Most women delivering at BWH will have the opportunity to donate their baby’s umbilical cord blood, thanks to Boston’s first public cord blood donation program, jointly operated by BWH and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Through the program, cord blood is donated to a public bank, where it may be found to match any of the patients around the world who search the National Marrow Donor Program Registry for an available match.
“The basic idea of a public bank is to make tissues available for transplantation for those in need worldwide,” said Robert Barbieri, MD, chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at BWH. “Previously, cord blood was discarded and unavailable to patients in need. With this program, there is a great opportunity for new parents to help save a life.”
Private cord blood banks opened several years ago, allowing parents to store their child’s cord blood for an annual fee in the event that their own child or a relative would someday need a stem cell transplant. “The chance that these parents will ever use that cord blood is rare,” Barbieri said. “But with a public cord bank, there is a much higher chance that someone in need will be able to use that cord blood specimen for a transplant.”
Another benefit is that umbilical cord blood has qualities that make it more suitable for transplant. “In general, it doesn’t cause problems as often as adult stem cells,” Barbieri said.
Joseph Antin, MD, head of the Stem Cell Transplant Program at Dana-Farber, said that donation of cord blood is risk-free, painless and costs nothing. “We are very grateful for the generosity of the families who donate these cells,” he said. “These cells are used for both children and adults with diseases that can be cured with stem cell transplantation, but who do not have an available adult donor.”
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.” Minority patients, especially, will benefit as they tend to have a more difficult time finding an adult match.
Within two weeks of the program’s opening, more than 30 women at BWH donated their umbilical cord blood. “Everyone is asked whether they want to participate, and most people do because they understand the value in this and the fact that if they don’t, the umbilical cord and the stem cells it contains are simply discarded,” Barbieri said.
Patients who donate cord blood will not know if it is used for a transplant, but for Yolin Raley, having the chance to help is enough. “Maybe mine will give someone the opportunity for a successful outcome,” she said. “One of our patients at DFCI had a cord blood stem cell transplant two years ago and now he is in remission from leukemia. He’s a reason why I come to work every day.”
For more information, visit www.brighamandwomens.org/corddonor