Magazine article USA TODAY

Rescued by an Umbilical Cord

Magazine article USA TODAY

Rescued by an Umbilical Cord

Article excerpt

THE BIRTH OF a child, whether the first born or the fifth, is an exciting time for any family, but imagine the impact the birth of a sibling brings if, before his or her first step or word, that baby has the unique ability to change a life. That is the experience each of the following families had when they learned the cord that connects mother and child contains a rich variety of stem cells that are being used today to treat a number of diseases.

Most parents never are told about the benefits of cord blood or their banking options. However, for the Chang, Mulumba, and Vernezos families, storing theft babies stem cells became an option just when they needed it most. By using one sibling's cord blood to save the other, unimaginable hope was fostered, and lifelong bonds were made even deeper. From new life to a life hanging by a thread, these little heroes saved their siblings before they even could crawl.

Titus Chang was 18 months old when he was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a condition that results in a decreased production of blood cells. Weakness and fatigue plagued Titus, along with serious infections and the possibility of major heart problems--even death. Titus' mother Sandy was overwhelmed with the diagnosis of her perfect baby boy. "I was in shock. It didn't seem possible. He was born a fine, healthy baby. This doesn't run in our family at all."

Medications and weekly blood transfusions sustained Titus' immune system and supplemented his bone marrow, which was incapable of producing new blood cells fast enough. The standard treatment of numerous medications and regular blood transfusions was beginning to take a physical and mental toll on the young family.

Over the course of Titus' therapy, Sandy became pregnant with their second son. Doctors were optimistic at the prospect of using the baby's cord blood stem cells to help cure Titus. In his case especially, stem cell transplantation was the best chance for a cure and the preferred treatment for many physicians. Having a matched sibling's stem cells not only offers the best transplant outcomes, it eliminates the long and sometimes unsuccessful search for a match in the public donor system.

The family was comforted to hear about Cord Blood Registry's Designated Treatment Program, which would collect, process, and store baby Jedediah's cord blood for free. The program was designed as a public service for families with a member who has an existing medical condition, and they must qualify based on certain criteria. The Changs took advantage of the program to collect their newborn's cord blood and used it immediately as treatment, rather than waiting for a bone marrow donor match.

Titus underwent chemotherapy before receiving the transplant that would replace the abnormal bone marrow stem cells with healthy, blood-forming cells. This addressed the disease at its source, rather than alleviating symptoms temporarily. Titus' cord blood transplant cured him of his condition and gave him a chance at a normal life. Since his transfusion in 2004, he has been medication and transfusion free. "For all appearances," notes transplant physician Douglas Taylor, "he will have never had anything wrong with him.

"Cord blood was really the best answer for Titus. It was immediately available and [because] Titus' donor was [an infant], it would have been difficult or impossible to obtain bone marrow or peripheral blood given the size of such a young baby, which would have delayed the transplant by months, if not longer."

Finding stem cell donors is a challenge, with more than 70% of patients in need going without every year in the U.S. For ethnic minorities, it is profoundly more difficult. Patients are far more likely to match a donor of their own ethnicity, and less than seven percent of donors on the National Bone Marrow Registry are of Asian or Pacific Islander decent.

According to a report from the U. …

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