— Like other first-time parents, Carl Field and Christy
Olsen Field had dozens of details to finalize as they prepared
for their son’s birth last August.
unlike most parents in Seattle and elsewhere, the Ballard
couple made sure to stress one crucial item on the birth-plan
checklist: Donate the baby’s umbilical cord blood to a
public cord-blood bank.
had a few different doctors right at the end of our
pregnancy," recalled Christy Olsen Field, 29. "We
told each of them that we wanted to do the cord-blood
donation. We had to tell them that we wanted to do it."
doctors supported the Fields’ desire to donate cord blood, a
rich source of stem cells that can be used for lifesaving
transplants for people with cancer and other diseases. But the
practice is far from routine.
about 20 percent of eligible local parents donate their
newborns’ cord blood to public banks. Otherwise, it’s
discarded as medical waste.
addition, only about a quarter of local hospital staffers are
trained and certified to be able to collect cord blood, said
Dave Larsen, director of communications for Bloodworks
Northwest, formerly Puget Sound Blood Center. And, in the
past, few area hospitals were part of the program that allowed
patients to donate.
Fields say they felt like they had to be especially insistent
to ensure they could preserve the donation after their baby,
Carl V, was born.
ounces of blood collected come from the umbilical cord and
placental vessels. The blood must be retrieved right after
birth and frozen within 48 hours, according to the federal
Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the practice.
you miss that window, it’s gone," said Christy Olsen
Field, a grant writer for the Nordic Heritage Museum.
"There’s just a huge number of people who don’t know
and just throw it out."
situation has been changing, although slowly. Last month,
Bloodworks Northwest added Tacoma General Hospital to the
program, bringing the total number of regional hospitals to
12, and adding the potential for cord-blood donations from
more than 3,000 babies each year.
told, about 31,000 babies are born in the regional partner
hospitals each year. But only about 6,000 cords are donated to
the Bloodworks’ public bank, Larsen said.
biggest thing has always been raising awareness by new moms
that this is actually an opportunity for them," Larsen
issue has been that expectant parents are often flooded with
offers during pregnancy to preserve cord blood in private
banks as a hedge should their own child develop an illness
later in life. If the child needed a lifesaving stem-cell
transplant, for example, his or her cells would be available
to provide it, according to companies such as Viacord and
companies charge between $1,200 and $2,000 to collect and
process the blood, and then about $175 a year to store it,
presumably for decades. Most health-insurance providers don’t
cover the cost, although company officials say they’ve
arranged discounts with some.
groups such as the American Medical Association encourage
public banking, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists says the chance of a child needing his or her
own cord blood is remote — as low as 1 in 2,700 people.
banking, in contrast, is free to the donor families. It
creates a wider pool of donors to increase the chance that
people who need stem-cell transplants will actually receive
them, according to Be the Match, the national program that
advocates for bone-marrow and cord-blood donations.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has recommended
public banking in the past, says exceptions include situations
in which an infant has a full sibling with cancer or a genetic
condition treatable with cord-blood transplants.
is now rewriting its cord-blood guidance, with new
consideration of the possibility of using cord blood for
regenerative-tissue purposes, said Dr. William T. Shearer, a
professor of pediatrics and immunology at Baylor College of
Medicine, who authored the past guidelines. Future research
could bolster the argument for private banking.
the Field family, donating to a private bank was never an
option. Carl Field, 30, an adviser for the University of
Washington Physicians practice group, is a frequent
blood-platelet donor and serves on a board for the blood
center. Through that work, he learned about uses for cord
blood, which range from clinical transplants to research.
potential use of (private banking) is so much smaller than the
potential use of someone else needing it," he said.
Bloodworks Northwest public bank has been collecting cord
blood and preserving the donations in liquid nitrogen since
1997. The bank now boasts 11,000 units in storage.
are about 100 "matches" each year — situations in
which certain blood proteins of the donor match those of a
person who needs a transplant to treat dire illness.
Holt, a Seattle mother of three, got a call a few years ago
that the cord blood she donated after the birth of her son,
Chase, now 6, was matched with a 15-year-old girl with
non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer.
the best call I’ve ever taken in my life," Holt said.
"I like to believe maybe she’s living a beautiful love-
and light-filled life in some small part because I
Fields agree. They plan to tell Carl V, now 7 months old,
about his cord-blood contribution when he’s old enough.
like to see every obstetrician tell their parents: This is a
great program, and you should do it," Christy Olsen Field
said. "It’s such an easy way to save a life."