The pros and cons of banking your baby's stem cells

FRESNO, Calif.

She spins, kicks, and giggles. Like most five year olds, Harlow Page is full of energy.

"This is Harlow when she was first born. We had heard about cord blood banking and talked about it a lot and thought let's just go for it and have it just as a backup," said Jamie Page, Harlow's mom.

It turns out they did need it. Harlow had cancer in her uterus.

"On the ultrasound they immediately saw that there was a mass in her abdomen about the size of a grapefruit," Jamie said.

After a year of chemo, the tumor was gone. Doctors wanted to keep it that way.

"So, when the doctors found out we actually had her own stem cells they were very excited," Jamie said.

"I think that her umbilical cord cells were used as a boost to her own cells when we harvested her to have adequate cells for reconstitution," said Elaine Morgan, MD, Oncologist, Lurie Children's Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Morgan does not advocate private cord stem cell banking at birth to be saved for a healthy baby's later use, because it's not clinically useful and it's expensive.

The Pages paid almost $2,000 for the initial banking fee, plus an extra $125 per year.

Dr. Morgan says banking for a sick sibling is worthwhile. She says only one-in-four siblings are a match and sometimes finding a match can be difficult.

"We could come across a patient who's HLA type doesn't match with anything that's already in the bank," Dr. Morgan said.

Just before her fifth birthday Harlow's cancer returned. Her parents say the stem cells gave her four years to grow strong so her body could fight this.

Harlow has undergone radiation and surgery to remove the tumor. She's receiving 40 weeks of chemo.

"We still think she has a really good chance of being cured with her current therapy," Jamie said.

The Pages say banking Harlow's stem cells was easy. Right after birth the doctor collected the blood and a courier took it to the bank. There are a number of umbilical cord stem sell banking companies online.

The Pages recommend doing your research to find a reputable one. They chose a private bank, but say if you choose not to go that route consider donating in order to provide a potential match for someone in need.

Elaine Morgan, MD
Attending Physician in Hematology and Oncology
Lurie Children's Memorial Hospital
Chicago, IL

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