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When medical waste is another’s treasure

Mothers who give birth at BC Women’s have the unique opportunity to really make a difference and, ultimately save a life.
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​BC Women’s is the only hospital in Western Canada that houses the Canadian Blood Services’ National Public Cord Blood Bank. The Cord Blood Bank collects, processes, tests and stores cord blood units donated by families at the time of birth. The umbilical cord and placenta are rich in blood-forming stem cells that can help save the lives of patients with diseases and disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia. Normally, the umbilical cord and placenta are discarded as medical waste, but with consent, the blood can be used to store in a national depository for patients requiring a match or it may be used for research leading to medical discoveries.

Kathryn is a mother of two who donated cord blood when she gave birth at BC Women’s. To Kathryn, this was a no-brainer decision. She learned that cord blood can potentially save someone’s life and all that is required from her was to sign a few forms, it just made sense, why let something so valuable go to waste?

Not only did Kathryn donate cord blood, but she’s also a donor for BC Women’s Provincial Milk Bank. It all began when Kathryn, herself, didn’t produce enough milk and was offered the choice of formula or mother’s milk. Naturally, she opted for mother’s milk because of all the nutrients and antibodies important for a growing baby. As a way to give back, once Kathryn starting producing her own supply of milk, she donated the surplus to the Milk Bank.

When the exciting news came that Kathryn was pregnant with her second child, she knew the drill as she’s gone through the whole pregnancy process. She later found out during the pregnancy that she may need to deliver her baby preterm; things then became a little more uncertain. In preparation for a possible preterm delivery, Kathryn and her family visited the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where her baby would be cared for if she went into labour early. 

The visit opened their eyes giving them the perspective of what other families who aren’t as fortunate to deliver healthy babies may be going through. Many of these tiny babies also received milk from the Milk Bank, integral to their development and to ward off life-threatening infections. In addition, donated cord blood is used in research at BC Women’s that studies the nature of diseases and infections related to premature infants that can lead to medical breakthroughs and cures.

“The old adage – it takes a village to raise a child – rings so true,” says Kathryn. “Seeing the babies and families in the NICU and thinking that it could be me, really made me realize the importance of cord blood and donated breastmilk. It truly can make a difference and save a life.”

Kathryn encourages expecting moms who plan to give birth at BC Women’s to donate cord blood and if they can, breastmilk. 

“There’s only a period of time a mother can donate cord blood and produce breastmilk, which makes these donations more special and valuable. There’s nothing more rewarding to know that your donation can give a baby a chance to live and the opportunity to go through all of life's milestones and into old age.”

You can now register online to consent for cord blood donation prior to giving birth at BC Women’s.

Learn more about donating cord blood and breastmilk.


BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre; cord blood; babies; donor milk; milk bank
Children's Health
SOURCE: When medical waste is another’s treasure ( )
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