If you are currently expecting a child or are planning to in the future, you have the opportunity to preserve a potential lifesaver for not only the child to be born, but also your other kids and maybe even their mother. And it’s normally discarded in the trash. What is it? Blood from your baby’s umbilical cord, when properly collected and preserved immediately after delivery, contains viable stem cells that can later transform into a variety of different cell types. Transplanted into a sibling, mother, or the baby years later, the stem cells can be a treatment for a variety of diseases, including various cancers, bone marrow failures, blood and metabolic disorders, and immunodeficiencies. It is also being tested in treatments for diabetes, cerebral palsy, and brain injury.
After collection at birth, cord blood (CB) is shipped to a CB bank where it is processed, which usually costs $1500-$2500. Thereafter, storage fees are approximately $150 annually, a cost sometimes guaranteed not to rise for 20-25 years. These expenses are typically not covered by insurance, unless someone currently covered by your policy (like another child) has an anticipated need for CB because they have been diagnosed with an illness treatable with CB.
You might also be able to donate the CB to a public bank, available for others to use, at no cost in certain hospitals. If your hospital does not participate, you may still be able to donate by contacting one of the public banks directly.
Unfortunately, CB is not a panacea. A baby’s own CB cannot be used to treat certain cancers because it usually contains the same genetic predisposition that caused the cancer. And the odds that you will ever utilize the CB are remote: the most commonly quoted odds are 1 in 2,700, or 0.04%, and some calculate the odds as much less. To put that in perspective, that’s about double the chance you might be killed in a car accident in any given year. But you can cut your risk of being killed by half, back down to the odds you’d use CB, by simply using a seatbelt, and you don’t think twice about driving your car. And the chances of winning the lottery? 1 in 15 million, or 0.000007%. Yet some of us still think we can beat those odds, at least occasionally.
Many professional organizations advocate donating CB to public banks for use by the public at large, much like blood banks. But due to the expense and the odds you could ever utilize privately banked CB, many of these same organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and perhaps most importantly, the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (who members are physicians who would likely actually treat someone with CB) still do not recommend retrieving CB unless a family member has a disease that can be potentially treated with it.
So what should you do? Electing to privately store CB is much like buying an insurance policy. If you ever need it, you’ll be glad you did. If your child is that 1 in 2,700, it doesn’t matter what the odds are. You just have to decide if a few grand is worth that peace of mind.
Guest Editor: Dave Schlosser, Patient Navigator LLC