Mercy’s Dr. Robert Atlas, OB/GYN Offers Insights Into Cord Blood Donation
The umbilical cord blood of a newborn baby is rich with stem cells that can be used for transplantation to treat dozens of diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle-cell disease.
But if new moms don't choose to donate, it is discarded as medical waste.
Diane Paradise celebrates two birthdays: the date she was born and the date she wears around her neck.
"That's my re-birthday," Paradise said.
Dec. 3, 2013, is the day Paradise received a cord blood stem cell transplant.
"(It) gave me my last chance at life. We were at my last chance," Paradise said.
Paradise had been fighting an aggressive form of Hodgkin's lymphoma for 19 years, and chemotherapy was no longer effective. But there was a ray of hope because waiting in a public bank were the stem cells from the cord blood of a baby girl.
"I have a brand new life because of cord blood stem cells," Paradise said.
"It could save millions of lives," said Dr. Robert Atlas, OB/GYN, Chair of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Mercy Medical Center, The Family Childbirth and Children’s Center.
Cord blood is usually thrown away. One of two hospitals in Baltimore participating in public cord blood banking, Mercy Medical Center offers expectant mothers the choice to have their baby's cord blood collected and stored in a public bank. The stem cells from that blood can be used to treat or cure more than 80 deadly diseases.
"I would really like to help the population of not only Baltimore, but in the United States in collecting as many samples as possible to give more people the chance of survival," Dr. Atlas said.
So why isn't public cord blood banking more common? Atlas admitted that it involves a lot of work. There are some health restrictions and 20 pages worth of paperwork the mother must complete prior to giving birth, and only about 10 percent of the cord blood collected is actually suitable to be banked and used."I've talked with tons of women about cord blood donation, and I've been unable many times to convince them to do it," Dr. Atlas said.
Charis Ober, executive director of Save the Cord Foundation, is working to educate women. She said it's especially crucial minority women donate cord blood.
"Right now, individuals of ethnic and blended backgrounds are dramatically under-represented, not only our national, but our global cord blood inventory," Ober said. "The chances are very, very slim for them to be able to receive the gift of life."
But pregnant women need to know about cord blood donation.
"That should be something that (is discussed with) every patient during the prenatal course, (but) it's not," Dr. Atlas said.
Paradise is thankful that a woman who gave birth to a baby girl in Michigan six years ago did know about public cord blood banking.
"Every year, on her birthday, I get a cupcake. I put a candle on it, and I send her wishes and I pray for blessings over her and her mom's life," Paradise said.
Paradise said she is alive, happy and cancer-free.
There is no cost to donate cord blood to a public bank, unlike private cord blood banking, where a new mother's cord blood is saved specifically for use by her child or another family member.
View Mercy Medical Center’s Dr. Robert Atlas’ interview regarding cord blood donation.
Founded in 1874 in downtown Baltimore by the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Medical Center is a 183-licensed bed acute care university-affiliated teaching hospital. Mercy has been recognized as a top Maryland hospital by U.S. News & World Report; a Top 100 hospital for Women’s Health & Orthopedics by Healthgrades; is currently A-rated for Hospital Safety (Leapfrog Group), and is recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Magnet Hospital. Mercy Medical Center is part of Mercy Health Services (MHS), the parent of Mercy’s primary care and specialty care physician enterprise, known as Mercy Personal Physicians, which employs more than 200 providers with locations in Baltimore, Lutherville, Overlea, Glen Burnie, Columbia and Reisterstown. For more information about Mercy, visit www.mdmercy.com, MDMercyMedia on Facebook, Twitter, or call 1-800-MD-Mercy.