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Sometimes You Don’t Need to Roll Up Your Sleeve

The arrival of a baby changes everything – and not always just for the parents and immediate family. Umbilical cord blood that sustains an infant before birth can be a lifesaver for someone else after the child is born. If you are expecting, you may want to consider donating your baby’s cord blood.

Cord blood, like bone marrow, is used in transplants to treat more than 80 life-threatening diseases and conditions. These include leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia. That’s because cord blood and bone marrow are rich in stem cells, the body’s internal repair system. When the need arises, stem cells develop into oxygen-rich red blood cells that are essential for healing. They can also turn into white blood cells, which fight infection, and platelets, which help blood clot. Stem cells also have the ability to become more specialized, developing into muscle cells or brain cells, for example.

A cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor successfully treated Kai Goulbourne. A Canadian of Jamaican descent,  Goulbourne was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago.

Who Needs Your Baby’s Cord Blood?

Every year, more than 20,000 people learn that they have a disease or condition in which a transplant offers the only hope for survival. Success hinges on how closely proteins in the transplanted material match those found in the patient. Since tissue type is inherited, medical teams will turn to family members first when looking for a donor. Even so, most patients will not find a match from a relative. For them, that means searching for an unrelated donor through an organization like the Be The Match Registry, a global network of transplant centers, marrow registries and cord blood banks.

Finding a match is not guaranteed (it is particularly difficult for members of minority groups) and even when one is found and the transplant is made, there can be serious side effects. Complications, however, are less likely with cord blood. For one thing, cord blood does not need to match as closely as bone marrow. It is also already stored and can be sent to a patient immediately. When obtaining marrow, the donor must be contacted and, before donating, prepped with special drugs, a process that can take weeks. This makes cord blood especially important for patients who:

  • Have difficulty finding a matching marrow donor
  • Are of diverse racial and ethnic heritages or have an uncommon tissue type
  • Have a life-threatening genetic disorder
  • Need a transplant quickly

Another advantage of cord blood is that collecting it poses no medical risk to either the mother or the baby. Marrow donors, on the other hand, in addition to the drugs they must take, must undergo surgery.

Cord blood has to be collected from the umbilical cord – not the baby – as soon as it is cut. While there is no cost to donate, accommodations for the procedure have to be made in advance of a baby’s birth. That means parents must alert medical staff before they arrive in the delivery room. Otherwise, this lifesaving material will simply be discarded as medical waste.

Cord blood transplants and marrow donations save lives. Find out more about cord blood collection options and how you can register to be a marrow donor at

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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