ATLANTA - Cells in the umbilical cords of newborns are now used to treat several forms of cancer and other illnesses.
Until now, most parents have had to pay thousands of dollars if they wanted to store their baby’s cells in a private bank. Now, several Atlanta hospitals are offering free public cord blood donation.
Channel 2's Diana Davis was at Piedmont Hospital on Wednesday morning for the first public donation there. Emily Velez was in the early stages of labor when Davis met her and her husband.
Their son, delivered Wednesday afternoon, is the couple’s first child. The Velezes are the first Piedmont Hospital parents to donate their baby's umbilical cord blood to a public cord blood bank.
Stem cells in cord blood can be used to treat children and adults with illnesses including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease. That’s why Velez and her husband decided to participate in the program.
“It’s amazing to know that someone's life could be saved with our baby's cord blood,” said Emily Velez.
Piedmont previously only offered private cord blood banking. Parents pay thousands of dollars to store their baby’s blood if it’s ever needed, though it may or may not be a match.
With public banking, the cord blood goes to anyone who is a match, and donation is free. Velez told Davis it was the best choice for her family.
“It kind of sounds like the public banking is the better option because you know if there is something that goes wrong with your cord blood, that cord blood that you have may not work to treat the issues the your baby has,” she said.
If the donor's family member ever needs cord blood and the donation has not been used, it’s free if it is a match.
Piedmont was able to start the program thanks to a three-year, more than $1 million grant from the Katz Foundation. Emily Velez’ husband, J.C. Velez, whose best friend is now undergoing cancer treatment, was excited about the prospect of helping others.
“I just don't see why anybody would not donate for something that is typically discarded,” said J.C. Velez.
Piedmont delivers about 3,500 babies a year and expects about 70 percent of parents of newborns to participate in the public donation program.