Cord Blood Awareness Month highlights importance of donating umbilical cord blood

Published: Jul. 29, 2022 at 6:03 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - July is Cord Blood Awareness Month to emphasize the life-saving qualities of blood from a newborn’s umbilical cord.

Blood from a baby’s umbilical cord is vital to modern medicine, and there’s not enough of it to go around. Out of the 4 million births in the United States annually, only about 5-10% of those families donate their cord blood. Erica Hess, Director of Women’s & Children’s Services at Baptist Medical East, believes that percent is so low because not enough people understand how easy it is, how much it’s needed, or what’s valuable about cord blood.

“They’re cells that haven’t decided exactly what they want to be when they grow up yet, so they can go and help with a multitude of different disease processes, injury, things like that’s happened to an individual. And then, they can even go into specialty cells, such as skeletal cells, brain cells, and muscle cells, to be able to help with whatever ailment a patient is experiencing. So they’re very, very important in modern medicine today,” Hess explained.

In fact, cord blood contains stem cells that can treat more than 80 diseases.

“Probably the most common is in cancer treatments, specifically with leukemia patients have benefited substantially from the stem cells that are received from cord blood. Also, patients that have different heart diseases or muscle diseases, the stem cells that’s received from cord blood has actually helped them regenerate and regrow, you know, whatever is missing from their from their bodies, or has been injured from disease processes,” said Hess.

Donating cord blood is a simple process that doesn’t touch the mother or the baby. Another remarkable trait of cord blood is its shelf life. It can be stored for more than 23 years.

“They’re asked if they want to donate their cord blood. If the answer is yes, there’s a collection kit that LifeSouth provides. That’s who we partner with in the area, and the provider does it after the baby is born. There’s no stick to mom or baby. It just comes straight from the umbilical cord,” Hess described.

If you don’t donate it, Hess said the entire umbilical cord would just be discarded, thrown away as medical waste.

Cord blood DONATIONS are different from cord blood BANKING. DONATING cord blood is completely free and can be used by anyone who needs it. Banking is when you store it for your own family’s potential use and comes with a fee - sometimes, it can be pretty pricey.

To put into perspective how under-utilized it is, Baptist East delivers about 300 babies a month. In all of last year, 2021, it donated less than 450 units of cord blood.

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