Yinnie Wong and Jack Chieh’s six-pound, 13-ounce baby boy — as yet unnamed — was born on an auspicious day, Jan. 24, Chinese New Year, and he’s already doing good in the world.
“Everyone was really happy, it is supposed to be a lucky day,” said Wong.
Although the birth was a planned C-section, Wong had no control over the date hospital administrators chose for the birth. What she did have control over was the choice to donate her baby’s cord blood to the cord blood bank at B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre, which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary.
Cord blood is blood that is taken from the umbilical cord and placenta immediately after the birth of a healthy infant. Cord blood is rich in stem cells, and can be used to treat over 80 diseases, including leukemia.
According to Canadian Blood Services, ethnically diverse donors are especially needed because although Stats Canada data shows 67.7 per cent of Canadians consider their ethnic origin to be diverse, only 31 per cent of Canadians with blood in Canada’s stem-cell registry are from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
Crystal Nguyen, 20, is a former B.C. Children’s Hospital patient whose life was saved by a stem-cell transplant from donated cord blood. Nguyen was first diagnosed with acute myleloid leukemia at age 12. After chemo, she went into remission for almost three years. Then the cancer returned. She was told she needed a bone-marrow transplant.
“When I relapsed I was very confused, it was kind of surreal. The main thing about being told I needed the bone-marrow stem-cell transplant was confusion, fear and anxiety.”
Nguyen is of Vietnamese descent and needed a match to survive. No one in her family was a match, nor was there a stem-cell match in the Canadian cord blood bank, but a match was found thanks to the Canadian Blood Services’ partnerships with 47 international blood banks.
“I was told it came through the international cord blood bank from somewhere very far away,” said Nguyen, who has been in remission since the transplant.
When she learned the stem-cell transplant had been successful, Nguyen, who is now studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse, said it felt too good to be true.
“There was a lot of happiness, joy, excitement. Donating cord blood is such a simple way to save a life.”
Although cord blood can be collected and stored for a fee by private companies and reserved for the donor family’s use, cord blood donated through Canadian Blood Services is available free to the public — whoever needs the match.
Wong didn’t hesitate when her son was born. “I felt like I wanted to do it if it helps someone in the public, and if it could save lives — I would have been very happy to help another child,” said Wong, who is a nurse at B.C. Women’s hospital.
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