New babies can bring more than joy and laughter to the world. They also bring the potential for lifesaving medical treatments.
Umbilical cord blood contains stem cells that can be used for research and to treat life-threatening diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disorders.
Lady's Island resident Monica Wiser had read an article online a few years ago about the benefits of cord blood and has been interested in the procedure since. When she found out she was pregnant with her second child, she knew right away she wanted to donate the baby's cord blood.
"It's even less invasive than drawing blood from your arm because it is not collected until your baby is safely delivered and the umbilical cord has been cut," Wiser said.
But when she asked her obstetrician, Dr. Randy Royal, how to donate the blood, he said no one had ever asked him about it before. Wiser said her doctor had collected patients' cord blood for personal banking but never for donation.
Wiser began searching the Internet for information on cord blood donations. All she could find were websites offering personal cord blood banking. She eventually found a website that listed U.S. hospitals that offered the donation process. No South Carolina hospitals were listed.
Then she searched for universities that might need cord blood for research and found a program offered through Duke University Medical Center's Carolinas Cord Blood Bank. The National Marrow Donor Program's kit-model pilot program is designed for mothers who plan to give birth at a hospital that does not participate in public banking.
Carolinas Cord Blood Bank collection site coordinator Robin Berger said there are fewer than 200 hospitals in the U.S. where a woman can donate her baby's cord blood to a public bank. She said the pilot program is an alternative for women who don't plan to deliver at one of those participating hospitals.
Wiser contacted Duke and soon received information on the program via email.
The first step was to talk to her obstetrician about donating. Then she had to contact Duke to discuss eligibility requirements. After confirming she was eligible, the blood bank sent her a free kit that included everything the doctor would need for the collection as well as medical history questionnaires and other paperwork. Her doctor also had to complete some brief online training to meet public cord blood collection and banking standards.
The next step was likely the hardest for Wiser -- giving birth. Baby Luke was born Aug. 3, and Royal collected the blood from the umbilical cord.
"I hope it will help treat someone in need or help find a treatment for other diseases," Wiser said. "I also hope that this venture will make it easier for other couples to donate cord blood."
Berger said after the baby is delivered, the cord is clamped, cut and cleaned. Then the doctor extracts the blood with a needle and drains it into a bag similar to the kind Red Cross uses to collect blood. That makes one cord blood unit. The unit is then sent to the blood bank, where it is tested, frozen and stored. The blood is made available through a registry for patients needing lifesaving blood or marrow transplants.
"It's such a great gift," Berger said. "There are just not very many opportunities in life where you can give something that's so valuable. ... And it really does make a difference in people's lives every day."