WASHINGTON – Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew will spend this Father's Day urging dads-to-be to save something for their children that he could not for his – umbilical cord blood.
Cord blood,once considered medical waste,contains stem cells unique to a child that have proven useful in treating more than 60 diseases,including leukemia,sickle cell anemia,diabetes and heart disease.
Carew's 18-year-old daughter,Michelle,died of leukemia in 1996 after unsuccessfully searching for a bone marrow donor. And Carew said in a telephone interview that cord blood might have contained stem cells necessary to regenerate her own bone marrow.
Now Carew has teamed up with LifebankUSA,a private cord blood bank,to urge other dads to save their babies' blood.
“This is going to be a great Father's Day gift for a lot of guys,” Carew said. “You just can't put a money value on the life of your child”
Cord blood can also benefit adults.
Stephen Sprague,of New York,was a 47-year-old divorced father of two when doctors discovered his chronic leukemia 10 years ago. Sprague said in a telephone interview that his children prepared for the worst when he had difficulty finding a marrow donor match. However,his doctor recommended a cord blood transplant from a public bank.
Sprague found his match in 1997 and received a full stem cell transplant,which eradicated his leukemia. Since then,Sprague said he has been able to watch both of his children get married,and he now has three grandchildren.
“There's a little 8-year-old girl walking around the streets of New York somewhere who has no clue what she's done for me,” said Sprague,now a patient advocate for a national cord blood program. “I have that little girl's blood,her DNA.”
Sprague said individuals should consult with their doctors to see if public or private banking is best.
Public cord banking operates like regular blood banks. The cord blood is donated anonymously at birth,and banks charge recipients when a match is found.
Families with medical histories of chronic disease may want to invest in private banking,but those with no reason to expect the worst would be better off sharing the potential benefits,Sprague said.
Dr. Harvey Karp,pediatrics professor at the University of California,Los Angeles,said he recommends banking for all of his patients,including private banking for those who can afford about $2,000 up front and about $100 annually for storage. He said it is like purchasing life insurance.
Private banking provides a 100 percent match,Karp said. And the potential for stem cells in adults may mean that cord blood can be used years from now to treat such things as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's diseases,he said.
“It's like science fiction the way healthy heart tissue can be grown,” Karp said.
Cord blood cells also provide a solution for the stem cell morality debate,Karp said. Unlike embryonic stem cells,cord blood is readily available with the birth of every child.
“It's something that just gets thrown away,anyway,” Karp said.
The House of Representatives passed a bill last month on a 431-1 vote that allots $79 million to establish a national cord blood banking system. About 20 banks currently operate with no government supervision. The bill would allow the Food and Drug Administration to oversee operations and help spread banks to areas without them.
The Senate has not acted on the bill.
Until that bill becomes law,Carew and Sprague said they will continue tell other fathers about the value of cord blood.
“Too many people die at home,waiting,before knowing that this cord blood stuff is out there,” Sprague said.
To find a list of public cord blood banks,go to: http://www.marrow.org/NMDP/cord_blood_bank_list.html