By MultiCare Health System
In the past year, nearly 600 new mothers at MultiCare Health System facilities made a choice to help others by donating cord blood after their children were delivered, transforming an often-discarded product of the birth process into an important asset for patients and researchers.
July is Cord Blood Awareness Month, and MultiCare's Tacoma General Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital and Auburn Medical Center are continuing their partnership with Bloodworks Northwest to promote the collection of this important type of blood.
Cord blood remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta after birth. Although it is a very limited quantity, this blood is a rich source of stem cells that can be donated for preservation in a cord blood bank.
MultiCare provided 592 cord blood donations from June 2016 to June 2017, according to Bloodworks NW.
Cord blood transplants are typically used to treat blood diseases such as leukemia and aplastic anemia, according to Bloodworks NW. The cells are transplanted after the patient's own stem cells have been destroyed by chemotherapy.
Donation is a free, painless procedure that does not interfere with birth, or with mother-and-child bonding following delivery. There is no risk to either mother or baby and no cost associated with the donation.
Patients are generally very supportive of cord blood donations, says Lori Williams, Good Samaritan Birth Center charge nurse.
“Most of them have heard about it, so it's not a hard sell,” she says. “There are a lot of benefits: it saves lives.”
Williams says most of the education process involves providing the proper paperwork for donations to expectant mothers who haven't already completed it.
“It's a joy when people find out they are able to help someone,” she says.
The use of cord blood in transplantation has increased every year since the 1990s, and 25,000 cord blood transplants have been performed to date, according to the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.
With more than four million births annually nationwide, the ready availability of cord blood could increase the number of transplants used in treating or curing these illnesses. It is also useful in research for developing treatments of other diseases.
Most healthy women are qualified to donate. Donors must carry a single baby (no twins or triplets), be at least 18 years of age, be past 37 weeks gestation at the time of delivery and have no blood cell disorders or cancers in the baby's immediate family (including baby's parents and siblings).
A mother must consent to the donation before the birth of her child, and blood samples from the mother are needed to test for infectious diseases.
Bloodworks Northwest created the first umbilical cord blood program in the Pacific Northwest in 1997 and today has program partnerships with 12 hospitals in Washington state and one hospital in Oregon. Stem cells collected by the program are made available to patients worldwide.
Cord blood transplantation offers hope for people in need of a match, especially patients from non-Caucasian ethnic groups, according to Bloodworks Northwest.
For example, because of the lower numbers of registered bone marrow donors of color and their genetic diversity, an African American patient may have just a 19 percent chance of finding a matching donor. A Caucasian patient may have a 75 percent chance of finding a donor. For this reason, cord blood collected from babies of non-Caucasian and mixed ethnic origins are particularly helpful.
A partnership with the Hawaii Cord Blood Program encompassing six hospitals has resulted in the banking of many donations by Asian Pacific Islanders. These expanding hospital partnerships create the opportunity to meet the needs of even more patients requiring stem cell transplants.
Families interested in donating cord blood should speak to their health care provider or BloodworksNW Cord Blood Program staff at
MultiCare Health System is a not-for-profit health care organization with more than 18,000 employees, providers and volunteers. We've been caring for our community for well over a century, since the founding of Tacoma's first hospital.