How Umbilical Cords Save Lives

Giving birth is giving new life to your child, but it does not have to stop there. Giving birth can also mean giving life back to someone diagnosed with blood cancer. If you decide to donate your child’s umbilical cord blood when you give birth, you could potentially save the life of someone who is currently facing a life-threatening disease, including blood cancer. The diseases that can be treated by umbilical cord donation are relatively unlikely, but do affect millions of people worldwide.

Umbilical cords are full of blood-forming cells known as hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). These cells are potentially life-saving because they can convert into any type of mature cell, such as red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells. In Patients with diseases such as blood cancer, these versatile cells are used to replace, or even rebuild their hematopoietic system, which is the system in the body responsible for the continuous creation of blood cells. You may be familiar with this procedure, because it is more commonly known as a bone marrow transplant. 

In order to have a life saving bone marrow transplant, traditionally, a patient is matched with a donor either by finding an unrelated donor on the national bone marrow registry, or less commonly, through a familial match. Yet there is a third option: umbilical cord blood. One of There Goes My Hero’s board members, Geneau Thomas, actually found her life saving match this way! 

When you give birth,The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages new parents to donate your child’s umbilical cord to either a public or private umbilical cord blood bank. It is encouraged to save the leftover cord in the case that one day your child, or someone else in your family, develops a serious disease that could be treated with those special cells stored in the cord. If you choose to store your child’s umbilical cord in a private bank, that would mean only you and your family will have access to the cord should you need to use it. Storing the cord in a private bank also means having to pay fees for them to house the cord. Choosing to store your cord in a public bank means that anyone who may need the potentially life saving cells in your umbilical cord will have access to them, and it is also free. 

Choosing to store your child’s umbilical cord in a public or private bank is completely safe for both you and your child. Should the cord match with someone in need of a bone marrow transplant, all the cells and DNA needed would be pulled out of the umbilical 

cord. You and your family would never need to physically involve yourselves in the donation process. 

Umbilical cord blood is crucial in potentially saving lives because: 

  • The stem cells in umbilical cords are able to grow more blood cells than bone marrow collected from a traditional donor
  • Umbilical cord cells can adapt to become most types of cells, which makes them more adaptable
  • They can be used for patients who have not been able to find a donor through their family, or the national bone marrow registry 

If you choose not to donate your Child’s umbilical cord, it is treated as medical waste and disposed of accordingly. Donating your child’s umbilical cord could mean potentially saving their lives one day, or possibly even saving the lives of others! Please consider donating your cord. If it is something you are interested in, please discuss it with your doctor or midwife. 

If you would like to learn more about joining the national bone marrow registry, you can reach out to