This Mother’s Day is extra special for a military family who donated their baby’s cord blood.
Angela, who served her country in Afghanistan, and her husband Don, an Army first sergeant, donated their baby’s umbilical cord blood shortly after his birth.
Donated cord blood units that meet criteria are frozen, stored, listed on Be The Match Registry® and made available to any patient in need of a transplant. Cord blood, usually disposed of after birth, is valuable because it contains blood stem cells. These cells can be used to treat more than 70 different diseases, including leukemia and lymphoma. For some patients, a blood stem cell transplant is their only hope for a cure, and thousands of patients are searching for a match.
Donating to a public cord blood bank is free. Cord blood is collected right after birth, and has no effect on labor or delivery. The process is safe for moms and babies. “[My doctors] did it right after I had my son, so it was a quick process,” said Angela.
Angela is African American, making her child’s cord blood donation especially valuable. Transplant patients are more likely to match someone who shares their racial or ethnic heritage. But with fewer African Americans on worldwide marrow donor registries, these patients have a more difficult time finding a close match. Using blood stem cells from cord blood may be their only hope for survival.
Unlike blood stem cells found in bone marrow, stem cells in cord blood are immature and haven’t yet learned how to attack foreign substances. Cord blood does not need to match as closely for the transplant to be successful, therefore it’s easier to match transplant patients with cord blood than with other sources of blood stem cells.
This makes access to cord blood vital for ethnic minorities. Angela learned about cord blood donation as a pregnant soldier when a representative from the Bloodworks Northwest cord blood program visited a class at her Army base near Tacoma, Washington.
She had heard of cord blood donation, but when she learned how badly African American donors were needed, she was convinced it was something she needed to do after her baby was born. That’s why she arranged for her cord blood donation earlier in her pregnancy, and brought the paperwork to the hospital the day her child was born.
At the stroke of midnight, January 1,2014, Angela and her husband welcomed their healthy baby boy into the world. He was the first baby of the New Year born in Western Washington. Don Jr. joined a wonderful family with two older brothers—and parents inspired to help others, however they can.
Expectant mothers who are interested in donating cord blood are advised to contact their cord blood bank or Be The Match between their 28th and 34th weeks of pregnancy. Learn more about cord blood donation, go to BeTheMatch.org/cord.