Medical center cord blood programs offers ‘the gift of life’

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — So far this year, umbilical cord blood collected from birthing mothers at Womack Army Medical Center has been used 27 times in life-saving incidents.

“It’s literally the gift of life because you don’t know who it’s going to impact,” said Col. John Melton, chief of staff at Womack.

Womack officials are pleased to celebrate those saved lives, but ponder how they can encourage more mothers – especially minorities – to donate umbilical cords after birth.

For the past six years, Womack has been in a partnership to collect umbilical cord blood for Duke University Medical Center’s Carolina Cord Blood Bank, a public cord bank that supplies stem cells to patients who need transplants.

Mothers find out about the cord blood donation program through centering group classes at Womack. The classes group women with similar due dates together to receive prenatal care and to learn about childbirth. Many of the nurses promote cord blood donation to mothers who check in for delivery, as well.

So far this year, 3,765 women have participated in the cord blood program from Womack, according to the Carolina Cord Blood Bank.

Umbilical cords are nutrient-rich and contain stem cells that can be used to treat people suffering from leukemia and lymphoma, among other disorders and diseases. After the blood is collected, the umbilical cords are discarded.

The donation is voluntary and confidential.

It’s also painless for mother and baby. Bone marrow donation, which also is done to collect stem cells, can be painful and requires an anesthetic, doctors said.

After a birth, the umbilical cord is sent to a room in Womack’s delivery ward where nurses from Carolina Cord Bank collect the blood, seal it and ship it to Duke University where it is tested, frozen and stored.

The collection process takes about 10 minutes.

The donations are added to a national registry. They can be sent to anyone in the country to be used as part of treatment.

The program began in 2009. Womack is the only hospital in the Department of Defense to collect umbilical cord blood, Melton said.

Since Womack is one of the busiest hospitals for births in the DOD, officials said that gives the hospital a unique opportunity to collect a significant amount of blood. Womack hosts roughly 3,000 births each year, an average of more than eight per day.

But officials at Womack are pushing to collect more blood from minorities.

Since cord blood is used like a bone marrow transplant, the cells must match, which means the race of the donor and recipient should match.

Dr. Sammy Choi, director of research at Womack Army Medical Center, said the hospital generally collects blood from Caucasians more than from other groups.

“African Americans will get leukemia just like white Americans, but the treatment options are fewer,” he said. “The military has a great opportunity to collect across ethnic lines.”


Information from: The Fayetteville Observer,

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