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BC Women's Cord Blood Bank turns five

BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre is one of four hospitals in Canada that collects and stores cord blood from patients who give birth at the hospital.
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​[Jack Chieh, Yinnie Wong and their not-yet-named baby boy]

​This month marks the fifth anniversary of BC Women’s Cord Blood Bank. In partnership with the Canadian Blood Services (CBS), BC Women’s is one of four hospitals in Canada that houses a public cord blood bank. 

“BC Women’s is one of the busiest maternity hospitals in Canada,” says Dr. Ellen Giesbrecht, senior medical director of the Maternal Newborn program at BC Women’s. 

“In addition, Vancouver has a culturally diverse population. The combination of high volume and diversity provides an excellent opportunity for BC Women’s to partner with CBS to support the cord blood bank and to allow families the ability to give back with this precious gift that can save a life.” 
What is cord blood?

Cord blood is blood in the umbilical cord and placenta that is rich with blood-forming stem cells that can help save lives of patients who are waiting for a matched stem cell donor from across Canada and around the world. Stem cell transplants are used to treat over 80 diseases and disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, inherited immune and metabolic disorders, and sickle cell disease.

There is minimal risk involved with cord blood donation and it is the least invasive way to collect stem cells. Nothing goes to waste. Cord blood that is not viable for banking is used in research that can lead to new medical discoveries and cures.

Yinnie Wong gave birth at BC Women’s on January 24, 2020 on Lunar New Year’s Eve, which is considered a very lucky day. She and her family welcomed a healthy baby boy, and to celebrate his new life they also donated cord blood. 

“I feel like it’s important to be able to take the opportunity to give back to the community and to help save lives,” says Yinnie.

This is their second donation. They made their first cord blood donation when their daughter Hailey was born back in September 2016.

Cord blood saves lives

Crystal Nguyen was 12 years old when she was diagnosed with acute myleloid leukemia, cancer of the blood and bone marrow that has rapidly progressed. She immediately started chemotherapy at BC Children’s Hospital and received 151 blood and platelet transfusions throughout her treatments. After the difficult chemotherapy, Crystal was in remission. Nearly three years later right before her 15th birthday, the cancer came back.

The next course of action recommended by her doctor was a bone marrow (stem cell) transplant as her best chance to ensure the cancer wouldn’t come back. 

“Cord blood is a valuable donor source for our patients in need of a bone marrow transplant,” says Dr. Jacob Rozmus, bone marrow transplant (BMT) director, BC Children’s. 

“Cord blood transplants offer many advantages including that they are readily accessible, they require a lesser degree of matching and produce lower rates of chronic GvHD, a serious long-term complication of BMT. Lastly, the collection efforts of our public bank match the diversity of our society ensuring that our patients have a better chance of finding a donor match.”

Crystal is of Vietnamese descent and would need to find a donor whom is of a similar background. Only 31 per cent of donors in Canada’s stem cell registry are ethnically diverse, and her immediate family members were not a match. Devastated, Crystal and her family now faced the challenge of finding a matched donor. Thankfully, a cord blood match was found through the CBS international network.            

“That cord blood transplant was the final treatment I needed to really knock the rest of my cancer cells and get on the road to recovery,” says Crystal. 

“With my leukemia being so aggressive, I don’t know if I would be in remission today without that cord blood transplant. I don’t even know if I would be here today at all without it.”

Crystal is five years into remission (and counting). Grateful for her new lease on life, Crystal is pursuing a career in nursing to become a pediatric oncology nurse inspired by her own personal cancer journey.

Learn how you can give life twice through cord blood donation.

Fast Facts
  • According to Canadian Blood Services, at any given time, there are hundreds of Canadian patients in need of an unrelated blood stem cell donor.
  • Approximately 75 per cent of patients who need a blood cell transplant are unable to find a suitable match within their own family.
  • Canada’s public cord blood banks are available to anyone in need of stem cell transplants and are free for Canadian use. Private cord blood banks can cost the Canadian medical system between $45,000 and $90,000 for cord blood per patient.
  • Last fiscal year (April 2018 – March 2019), BC Women’s had the highest number of cord blood collections, compared to the other three collection hospitals. Over 1,000 units of cord blood were collected during that time.
  • 33 per cent of new moms at BC Women’s donated cord blood.
  • Cord blood can be safely stored for more than 10 years without losing its ability to fight disease.
  • In the last 20 years, BC Children’s performed 65 umbilical cord blood transplants for a variety of diseases including leukemia, metabolic diseases and primary immunodeficiencies. 

BC Children's Hospital; BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre; cord blood; Patient story
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