On Monday, Northeast Georgia Medical Center will become the second hospital in the state where parents can donate their child’s umbilical cord blood, a stem-cell-rich tissue once considered medical waste but now proven to treat several life-threatening illnesses.
Donations collected in Gainesville will enter a public blood bank and be available for treatment and research needs in the U.S. and around the world.
“I sincerely hope that with our population and with the amount of deliveries we do here at the hospital, we can contribute a significant amount,” said Dr. Linton Kuchler, medical director of the hospital’s lab.
Donations will be collected through LifeCord, a Florida-based company, at no cost to parents.
About half of all donations are not approved for transplants and will be used for research, Kuchler said. The other donations will be available for treatment of cancers such as leukemia and other bone marrow diseases.
Sara Dyer, director of women and children’s services at the hospital, said Gainesville’s ethnic diversity makes it an ideal community for this kind of program because blood donation banks are often lacking in samples from Hispanic, black and other minority populations. Ultimately, she said, that hinders research and treatment possibilities.
“That blood is vital to research because those diverse populations often have different medical needs,” Dyer said.
Program coordinators said this also gives parents another option beyond privately storing cord blood for treating possible illnesses within their family, which can be costly.
At Northeast Georgia Medical Center, families will receive information about donating during prenatal treatment or upon arriving at the hospital for delivery, Dyer said. The goal is to collect as many donations as possible, but in no way will families be pressured to participate.
DeKalb Medical in Atlanta houses the first public cord blood donation program in Georgia.
Since its inception in 2007, more than 3,000 donations have been collected. Lynda Moon, clinical coordinator of labor and delivery at the hospital, said families have been very receptive to donating, with 90 percent choosing to do so.
Discussions about starting a donation program at Northeast Georgia Medical Center began nearly a year ago, when administrators were approached by LifeCord, which was founded at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla.
Devon Vickers of Florida says she owes her life to a cord blood transfusion she received at that hospital.
After being diagnosed with leukemia at age 11, Vickers underwent treatment and was in remission for five years. But at 16, the leukemia resurfaced and doctors advised her to undergo a cord blood bone marrow transplant.
Today is her 21st birthday.
“There is no way that I feel like I would be here if it wasn’t for whoever that mother was that decided to donate their child’s umbilical cord,” Vickers said.