Gift of life: Baby receives lifesaving donation of cord blood

HOUSTON – Just shy of her second birthday, Laila Wilson is full of energy and personality after winning a tough battle with AML leukemia.

Her mother, Bianca Moore, credits a cord blood donation for giving her daughter a second chance at life.

At just a few months old, Moore learned that what doctors originally thought was a bad case of hand, foot and mouth disease was actually cancer.

"I was in disbelief. Like, 'What? She has what?'" Moore said. "You just keep replaying it over and over. It took me a very long time, hours, to get it together."

After three rounds of intensive chemotherapy, Laila went into remission, but she was far from cured. Laila had a very weak immune system and needed a bone marrow transplant.

"She was high-risk for relapse," said Moore. "The prognosis was poor and there is not much research for the next step because not a lot of people have the same diagnosis, so the best thing they told us to do was go to transplant."

With time of the essence, Laila couldn't wait for a live marrow donor and that's when Moore learned about the healing power of umbilical cord blood.

Rich in stem cells, a single unit can cure diseases such as blood disorders, immune deficiencies, rare genetic disorders and even the form of leukemia that was threatening Laila's life.

After connecting with Be The Match, a national marrow donor program, Laila had four viable matches within just a few weeks. She then went on to receive a successful donation of cord blood, a lifesaving resource that is often thrown in the trash after a mother gives birth.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cord blood taken from the placenta of healthy newborn infants is discarded 95% of the time. Dr Caridad Martinez, associate clinical director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Texas Children's Hospital, urges expectant mothers to talk to their obstetrician about their desire to donate their cord blood instead of storing it in a private bank that can cost at least $2,000.

"Every mom who is pregnant has a placenta and has an umbilical cord that goes to the baby and we know that product is rich in stem cells, but we know when we deliver the babies, they get thrown into the trash," Martinez said. "If you preserve it and you donate it to the public, it's available and it can be a cure for many patients that need a stem cell transplant. We have a very easy tool out there to save lives."

Private cord banks charge families a placement fee of a minimum of $1,350 and a minimum annual maintenance fee of $100 to store their baby's cord blood in case it's needed in the future. Public cord banks are free to families. 

Moore said she is grateful for the donated cord blood that saved her daughter's life. 

"You never know when you may need someone to save your life," Moore said. "Why not donate?"

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