People around the world owe their lives to New Jersey newborns, thanks to parents who chose to hand over their babies' umbilical cord blood.

Mommy and her newborn
Dieter Meyrl, ThinkStock

The blood has been proven to be a rich source of stem cells that can be used for the treatment of many life-threatening conditions.

Special banks — both public and private — are devoted to the proper storage of these samples in case they're needed in the future for that child, a family member or another child or adult.

The New Jersey Cord Blood Bank is the public and free option for parents at specific hospitals. Collection of the cord blood takes about five minutes after a baby's birth and once the blood is processed, it's stored in a liquid nitrogen freezer and listed on the National Marrow Donors Program registry, accessible by transplant doctors worldwide.

"We have units that we've had stored since 1997," said NJCBB President Dennis Todd. "Right now we have about 8,000 units in our public bank. We have shipped, since its inception, about 315."

Those shipments could head to another spot in the country or as far as Australia to help another ill individual. The prime candidate, according to Todd, is a child or small adult.

"Specifically leukemias, lymphomas, sickle cell disease, severe combined immunodeficiencies and certain genetic disorders are treated very successfully by bone marrow transplants, and cord blood fits beautifully there," Todd said.

The public bank's participating hospitals vary over time. Currently, it's accepting umbilical cord blood units from babies delivered at:

  • St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center, Paterson
  • Holy Name Medical Center, Teaneck
  • Lankenau Medical Center, Wynnewood
  • Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia

Due to the expenses involved, Todd noted the program needs to be very selective in terms of which hospitals are included. As has been the case for a while, donors are more sorely needed from the black community.

But life-saving potential is not only available for parents who give birth at the above locations. Private banks take and store samples from any new parents in New Jersey.

The use of a private bank can come with a hefty up-front and monthly or yearly fee, but the potential reward is greater. Each unit is stored with a goal of helping that specific child or blood relative in the future.

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