Ever thought about donating stem cells, baby’s cord blood? A few things to consider

A newborn
A newborn (Pexels/stock image)

Most people, if not all adults, have likely heard about giving blood. It’s a pretty simple concept, it’s easy to do, and blood drives often pop up around most towns, fairly frequently.

But what about stem cell donations? What about cord blood? How familiar are you with these topics?

Let’s start by talking about stem cells.

There are so many rewards that go hand in hand with donating, and relatively few risks, the experts say.

As a donor, you might be able to help someone who is fighting a life-threatening disease like cancer.

Signing up is fast and easy. You’re basically agreeing to donate to someone else in the U.S. who you don’t know, if you’re called upon as a match, that is. Here’s what you do:

  • Request a free registration kit from the National Marrow Donor Program.
  • Follow the directions in the kit. You’ll take a swap of your cheek cells. It doesn’t hurt, and the program provides very clear and thorough instructions. You’ll return the sample in a provided postage-paid envelope.
  • This sample will be used to determine your human leukocyte antigen (HLA) type and potentially match you with someone in need.
  • Just be aware: Only 1 out of every 430 registry members is contacted to donate, according to this website. But don’t let that discourage you. The bigger the pool of potential donors, the more chances the program has to save a life.

In the case that you were to get called to donate, you wouldn’t have to pay for any medical expenses related to your stem cell donation.

Now we’ll move into cord blood.

When doctors can’t find an unrelated donor match for a stem cell transplant, some health experts might recommend using blood from two umbilical cords. This dual cord blood transplant provides enough stem cells for one adult.

Expecting parents are often asked if they’d like to donate their child’s cord blood.

Henry Ford Health System broke down that process into several steps of what to anticipate:

  • You should make arrangements several months before your baby’s due date with the National Marrow Donor Program, which arranges for free cord blood collection and storage.
  • After cutting and clamping the umbilical cord, your doctor will collect the cord blood in a sterile container.
  • The cord blood is mixed with a preservative and frozen at a cord blood bank until it’s needed by a patient.
  • Information about the cord blood donation is entered into the NMDP’s registry, which can be searched by doctors nationwide.

Cord blood donation, by the way, poses no known risk to the mother or infant.

New parents can also bank the blood for personal uses (for example, if someone in the family needed it down the road), but that typically takes place through a private company and can be costly at times.

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