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Who’s afraid of cord blood?

Interesting. A couple of weeks ago, we participated in the Viacord-sponsored Ultimate Baby Shower. Over the course of the evening, there were three presentations, one by an obstetrician speaking on behalf of ViaCord, one by a sonographer talking about 3D/4D ultrasound, and one by me – talking about baby gear. Each presentation took about 20 minutes. There was also a photographer displaying her work, and Alyssa Gusenoff, author of “Margarita Mamas: Mocktails for Moms to Be” was there mixing up mocktails and signing her book. The food was delicious, the raffle prizes were amazing (Radian car seat, Uppa Baby G-Lite stroller, Serena & Lily bedding set, Stokke Tripp Trapp chair, to name a few) and the setting, overlooking the lake at Wellesley College, was lovely.

As an expectant mom myself, it wasn’t a bad way to spend an evening – and it was free. The feedback surveys from those in attendance were glowing – the parents-to-be enjoyed the informative presentations, liked the food (loved the drinks), and all said they would recommend the event to their expectant friends.

Last week, the Globe ran a front page article, written by a pregnant reporter who had attended the event. The article raised some interesting questions about cord blood banking but didn’t talk much about the event itself. So I was surprised to see a columnist in the Boston Globe this weekend accusing Viacord of using the Ultimate Baby Shower for the purpose of fear mongering. I’m usually a fan of Beverly Beckham, and look forward to reading her insightful columns, which usually revolve around parenting and families. But I thought she made an unfair conclusion about an event that she clearly knew little about.

The Viacord presentation was compelling, not because it provoked fear, but because it offered so much hope. Stem cell research is still in its infancy. Already, there are more than 70 life-threatening illnesses that can be treated using cord blood stem cells. That number increases every year. Who knows, in 20 years, what will be on that list? Companies like Viacord certainly make money from the fees associated with collecting, processing and storing the cord blood, but they turn around and use a lot of that money for research, to identify new uses for cord blood stem cells. It’s a rapidly expanding cycle.

In my family, diabetes is a pervasive problem. My mother has Multiple Sclerosis. Both of these diseases have emerging treatments using stem cells. So if my kids’ cord blood can someday help themselves, me, my mom, or anyone else, why would I throw it away? Not everyone can afford to bank cord blood – that’s for sure. But as the list of applications for cord blood continues to grow, public cord blood banks will become a more popular option. Right now, they don’t have enough infrastructure or public awareness to grow at the same pace as the commercial cord blood banks, but it will happen – if those who can afford to do it embrace the optimism afforded by this new medical frontier.

My only fear? That someday, someone I love will be sick enough that we’ll need to use those stem cells.


  1. I think that until you have a child and it feels like you have your heart walking around outside of your body all the time, you have no idea the depths of what you would do to protect them. It’s not fear, it’s having the choice to give your child the best protection that you feel is necessary- and that is the given right of every parent.

  2. That’s exactly the point — parents of newborns become hyper-vigilant about their child, so they’re willing to latch onto anything that might possibly protect their child in the future, no matter how unscientific or unproven. Marketers and charlatans of all kinds have jumped on the worrying bandwagon. It’s the same reason why anecdotes have triumphed over science and so many people are reluctant to get their children vaccinated. And it’s the same reason why Lenore Skenazy’s article on letting her nine-year-old take the subway alone in NYC raised so many parents’ ire. Just look at the testimonials page on the Viacord website — there’s not a single testimonial from anyone who saved their child’s cord blood and later used that cord blood to treat some illness. So people are willing to spend $2,000, plus $125 per year, because of some hypothetical usefulness for the cord blood that might arise in the future? Plus, you’re also trusting the company to be able to keep the cord blood secure for the many years until you might actually need it. It’s throwing good money after bad.

    Donate to a public cord blood registry. Those registries are doing research that might find use for these cord blood cells, and the cord blood can help other families as well, not just your own. And you’re not paying some company money to advertise its services using fear. (There’s a reason they spent $10 million on marketing in the second quarter of 2006, and only $3.7 million on R&D. Now that they’re a subsidiary of a larger company, it wasn’t easy to find more recent spending breakdowns.)

  3. I actually tried to donate cord blood to a public bank, but because I delivered at a birth center and there was some new regulation (or something, can’t remember due to raging case of momnesia) which meant that their facility wasn’t allowed to collect and send in the cord blood. For the record, there were no hospitals in my area (suburban Philadelphia) that do the public cord bank collections. Hopefully, that changes. I understand the fear factor of cord blood banking, but decided not to do private banking.

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