Umbilical Cord Blood Program expands

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

When Anna Jolley went into labor seven weeks ago, she decided her baby girl could save lives while being born.

Jolley heads the University Health Care program that collects blood from discarded umbilical cords, which contain hundreds of adult stem cells that can give patients the blood they need for a bone marrow transplant. When Jolley became pregnant almost 11 months ago, she decided to contribute by giving up her daughter’s umbilical cord.

“It’s a miracle all around,” Jolley said. “You get this great little baby, and you know your blood is going to save lives. My little girl got to help do that.”

The Umbilical Cord Blood Program, which was organized in May 2007 with government funding, has collected about 1,000 units of blood so far and joined forces with St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City last year to accumulate more. Each unit of blood, the equivalent of the blood from one umbilical cord, gives one cancer patient enough blood for a bone marrow transplant.

Program coordinators approach pregnant women in their third trimester and ask them to donate their child’s umbilical cord, which is usually discarded after birth. Linda Kelley, program director and founder, said 95 percent of the women who can give blood from the umbilical cord agree to it.

The women have to fill out a questionnaire, sign permission forms and agree to tests for diseases. Program organizers collect the cord right after birth to gather as much blood as possible.

Despite the willingness of many women to participate, the program struggles to keep women on board because so many of the University Hospital’s pregnant patients are transferred from other local hospitals to the U because they are classified as high-risk and often have problems giving birth, Kelley said.

Although about 4,000 babies are born at the U Hospital every year, the majority of mothers are disqualified from participating in the program if they give birth prematurely or another problem occurs, which slims the number of women allowed to give up their child’s umbilical cords.

“Whenever there’s an emergency and something goes awry, we don’t do a collection,” Kelley said. “It’s only for normal, healthy, full-term deliveries.”

Kelley said the venture with St. Mark’s Hospital will nearly triple the program’s blood collection, which will ultimately help blood banks around the United States gather enough stem cell-rich blood to help leukemia and other cancer patients.

“We hope to get six hospitals on board within the end of this year,” Kelley said. “That would be about 20,000 total births.”

The U receives funding through an $80 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The money was appropriated to umbilical cord collection programs in the United States in 2007 after Congress passed a bill two years prior to fund the programs.

Despite a struggling economy, Kelley said funding has been going strong, and the U’s program even plans to increase collection by including Intermountain Healthcare hospitals by 2010.

Marilyn Love, director of labor and delivery at St. Mark’s Hospital, said the hospital was excited about joining the program, and its more than 3,000 births every year will help expand the blood collection.

“It’s been very positive,” Love said. “The majority of moms approached that fit within criteria agree to participate.”

Jolley said the program is expanding rapidly and she was proud to have helped out by agreeing to let the program have her daughter’s umbilical cord blood.

“I talk to moms all day about the benefits of participating,” Jolley said. “It’s the cherry on top to be able to participate myself.”

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